We have studied the effect of the probiotic strain Lactobacillus plantarum 299v on the immune functions of gnotobiotic rats. One group of germ-free rats was colonized with the type 1-fimbriated Escherichia coli O6:K13:H1 and another group with the same E. coli strain together with L. plantarum 299v. One and 5 weeks after colonization, bacterial numbers were determined in the contents of the small intestine, caecum and mesenteric lymph nodes. Small intestinal sections were examined for CD8+, CD4+, CD25+ (IL-2R α-chain), IgA+ and MHC class II+ cells and mitogen-induced spleen cell proliferation was determined. Immunoglobulin levels and E. coli-specific antibodies were measured in serum. Rats given L. plantarum in addition to E. coli showed lower counts of E. coli in the small intestine and caecum 1 week after colonization compared with the group colonized with E. coli alone, but similar levels after 5 weeks. Rats colonized with L. plantarum+ E. coli had significantly higher total serum IgA levels and marginally higher IgM and IgA antibody levels against E. coli than those colonized with E. coli alone. They also showed a significantly increased density of CD25+ cells in the lamina propria and displayed a decreased proliferative spleen cell response after stimulation with concanavalin A or E. coli 1 week after colonization. The results indicate that L. plantarum colonization competes with E. coli for intestinal colonization and can influence intestinal and systemic immunity.