Four motile, non-adherent and non-invasive mutants of Campylobacter jejuni 81-176 generated by a site-specific insertional mutagenesis scheme were characterized at the molecular level and all contained a duplication of the same region of the chromosome. When this region was cloned from wild-type 81-176 and transferred into 81-176 on a shuttle plasmid, the same non-invasive phenotype as the original mutants was observed, suggesting that the region contained a repressor of adherence and invasion. The smallest piece of DNA identified which was capable of repressing adherence and invasion was a 0.8 kb fragment encoding the cheY gene of C. jejuni. To confirm further that CheY was responsible for the observed non-adherent and non-invasive phenotypes, the cheY gene was inserted into the arylsulfatase gene of 81-176 to generate a strain with two chromosomal copies of cheY. This diploid strain displayed the same non-adherent and non-invasive phenotype as the original mutants. Insertional inactivation of the cheY gene in 81-176 resulted in an approx. threefold increase in adherence and invasion in vitro, but this strain was unable to colonize or cause disease in animals. The diploid cheY strain, although able to colonize mice, was attenuated in a ferret disease model.