BACKGROUND Human colon contains many bacteria that commonly colonize the perineum and frequently enter the urinary tract. Uropathogenic Escherichia coli are the most common cause of urinary tract infection. Type 1 fimbriated E. coli have been associated with cystitis, and P fimbriated E. coli with pyelonephritis. Factors involved in clearing bacteria from the urinary tract are poorly understood. Tamm-Horsfall protein (THP), the most abundant protein in mammalian urine, has been postulated to play a role in defense against urinary tract infection but definitive proof for this idea has been lacking. METHODS In this study, we generated THP gene knockout mice by the technique of homologous recombination, and examined if the THP-deficient (THP-/-) mice were more prone to urinary tract infection. Various strains of E. coli expressing type 1 or P fimbriae were introduced transurethrally into the bladders of the THP-/- and genetically similar wild-type (THP+/+) mice. Urine, bladder, and kidney tissues were obtained from the mice and cultured for bacterial growth. RESULTS THP-/- mice inoculated with type 1 fimbriated E. coli had a longer duration of bacteriuria, and more intense colonization of the urinary bladder in comparison with THP+/+ mice. When inoculated with a P fimbriated strain of E. coli, the THP-/- mice showed no difference in kidney bacterial load when compared with the THP+/+ mice. CONCLUSION These findings support the idea that THP serves as a soluble receptor for type 1 fimbriated E. coli and helps eliminate bacteria from the urinary tract.