Serpulina pilosicoli is an anaerobic spirochete which has been isolated from the colons of pigs with enteric disease. The clinical and pathologic features of experimental infections of conventional pigs (born by normal farrowing with a naturally acquired intestinal flora) with three strains of S. pilosicoli were determined in order to confirm the enteropathogenicity of this species. Strains were derived from the colons of British pigs with colitis and passaged 8 to 10 times during expansion and purification in vitro. Eighteen ten-week-old Large White-Landrace cross pigs were each inoculated once orally with 0.7 x 10(9) to 1.6 x 10(9) of one of three strains of S. pilosicoli. Six pigs were challenged with each strain. Control pigs were dosed with uninfected broth medium or with 1.8 x 10(7) cells of the nonpathogenic Serpulina innocens. Eight pigs (two to four per S. pilosicoli challenge group) developed soft or diarrheic feces (fecal dry matter < 24%) between 3 and 8 days after challenge, which persisted for 7 to 8 days or until necropsy at 14 days after challenge. Average weight gains in two of the three groups challenged with S. pilosicoli were significantly less than controls. The feed conversion ratios of all the groups challenged with S. pilosicoli were impaired compared to controls. The mean values for daily liveweight gain (and feed conversion ratio) for the three groups challenged with S. pilosicoli were 0.799 (2.13), 0.783 (2.05), and 0.844 kg (2.10), respectively, while that of the uninoculated controls was 0.944 kg (1.70). Gross lesions with slight mucosal thickening, congestion, and multifocal erosions were evident in seven of eight diarrheic pigs. The relative weights of the large intestines of pigs challenged with S. pilosicoli were significantly less than controls. Histologic lesions with an increase in mucosal height, infiltration of the lamina propria with mononuclear cells, mucosal erosion with mixed inflammatory cell infiltration, and goblet cell hyperplasia in colonic glands were evident in 15 of the 18 challenged pigs. S. pilosicoli was recovered on bacterial culture of the colon from all except one of the pigs with these histologic lesions. Serpulina sp. was clearly visible within the colonic glands of these affected pigs in silver-stained sections of the gut. Clinical and pathologic findings in control pigs were unremarkable, with no diarrhea or colonic lesions evident. The results provide further evidence that S. pilosicoli is a specific enteric pathogen for conventional pigs. It is capable of colonizing the large intestine and causing mucosal damage, which although mild is sufficient to result in significant adverse effects on growth.