Heat-stable enterotoxins (STa), which cause an acute secretory diarrhea, have been suggested to mediate their actions through the guanylyl cyclase-C (GC-C) receptor. The GC-C gene was disrupted by insertion of neo into exon 1 and subsequent homologous recombination. GC-C null mice contained no detectable GC-C protein. Intestine mucosal guanylyl cyclase activity was approximately 16-fold higher in wild-type mice than in the GC-C null mice, and STa-stimulable guanylyl cyclase activity was absent in the null animals. Thus, GC-C is the major cyclase activity present in the intestine, and also completely accounts for the STa-induced elevations of cGMP. Gavage with STa resulted in marked fluid accumulation within the intestine of wild-type and heterozygous suckling mice, but GC-C null animals were resistant. In addition, infection with enterotoxigenic bacteria that produce STa led to diarrhea and death in wild-type and heterozygous mice, while the null mice were protected. Cholera toxin, in contrast, continued to cause diarrhea in GC-C null mice, demonstrating that the cAMP signaling pathway remained intact. Markedly different diets (high carbohydrate, fat, or protein) or the inclusion of high salt (K+, Na+) in the drinking water or diet also did not severely affect the null animals. Given that GC-C is a major intestinal receptor in all mammals, the pressure to retain a functional GC-C in the face of diarrhea-inflicted mortality remains unexplained. Therefore, GC-C likely provides a protective effect against stressors not yet tested, possibly pathogens other than noninvasive enterotoxigenic bacteria.