Sensitivity of Staphylococcus aureus to the antibiotics tetracycline, benzylpenicillin and vancomycin was found to decrease by 2-10 fold when cells were grown adherent to silicone catheter surfaces. Sensitivity to rifampicin and fusidic acid was not significantly altered in adherent cells. Susceptibility further decreased with increased adherence time prior to antibiotic challenge. The resistance observed was not genotypic, or due to the presence of a specialized subpopulation of bacteria, as it disappeared when the bacteria were removed from the catheter, subcultured and retested. Also, adherent bacteria were found to grow more slowly than bacteria growing planktonically. It is concluded that the decrease in antibiotic susceptibility of adherent bacteria is a function of the physiological status of the individual cells rather than a function of biofilm formation or slime production. The decrease in growth rate of the adherent bacteria is a result of the adherence process rather than a result of nutrient depletion. The decrease in growth rate is implicated, but is not the sole factor, in the decreased antibiotic susceptibility of adherent bacteria.