Mycobacterium avium is an intracellular pathogen that is associated with disseminated infection in acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Patients with AIDS appear to acquire M. avium mainly through the gastrointestinal tract. Previous studies have shown that healthy mice given M. avium orally develop disseminated infection after 2-4 weeks. The chief site of M. avium invasion of the intestinal mucosa is the terminal ileum. To learn more about the pathophysiology of M. avium infection of the intestinal mucosa, C57BL/6 bg+ bg+ mice were infected orally with M. avium strain 101 and groups of six mice were killed each week for 8 weeks. The terminal ileum was then prepared for histopathological studies and electron microscopy. A delayed inflammatory response was observed and influx of neutrophils in the Peyer's patches was the only abnormality seen at 1 week. A severe inflammatory response was seen from week 2 to week 5 and necrosis of intestinal villi was observed 6 weeks after infection. These results indicate that invasion and infection of the normal intestine by M. avium results in a severe inflammatory response with segmental necrosis of the intestinal mucosa.