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The gram-negative pathogen Shigella flexneri causes bacillary dysentery, an invasive disease of the human colonic mucosa. A major characteristic of the infectious process is the occurrence of an acute inflammatory reaction of mucosal tissues which is generally consequence of primary invasion and destruction of colonic epithelial cells by the pathogen. Confirming in vitro demonstration that S. flexneri is unable to invade the apical pole of colonic cells and that polymorphonuclear (PMN) cells may assist them in reaching the basal side of epithelial cells where they can invade, we have provided here in vivo evidence that S. flexneri enters the epithelial barrier essentially through the dome of lymphoid follicles at the early stage of infection and that subsequent invasion and destruction of the epithelium is primarily due to immigration of leukocytes, particularly PMN that destroy cohesion of the epithelial barrier. These conclusions are based on experiments carried out in infected rabbit ligated intestinal loops, with some animals treated by an anti-CD18 monoclonal antibody that blocked immigration of leukocytes into infected tissues.