The association of the cell wall degrading enzyme endo-beta-1,4-xylanase (EC 18.104.22.168) with pathogenicity of Mycosphaerella graminicola was examined in planta. The enzyme production of two M. graminicola isolates (T0372 and T0491), as well as their ability to infect seedlings of susceptible wheat cv. Scorpion, was first compared. No significant difference was found between the two isolates regarding spore germination rates, mycelial growth on the leaf surface or direct and stomatal penetrations. However, restricted hyphal growth was observed inside leaves inoculated with T0372, whereas successful mesophyll colonization with a strong intercellular fungal growth was found in leaves infected with T0491. Likewise, T0372 was unable to induce lesions bearing pycnidia and to produce endo-beta-1,4-xylanase activity until 22 days post-inoculation (d.p.i.). On the other hand, significant high increases of both diseased leaf area bearing pycnidia and endo-beta-1,4-xylanase activity were observed between 16 and 22 d.p.i. for T0491 (r = 0·98). The investigation of 24 additional isolates, including the IPO323 and IPO94269 reference isolates, highlighted a strong correlation between endo-beta-1,4-xylanase activity and disease development levels (r = 0·94). This study demonstrates that differences in pathogenicity in M. graminicola are not linked to events on the leaf surface or to frequency of leaf penetration, but to the ability of the fungus to colonize the mesophyll and to produce the cell wall degrading enzyme endo-1,4-beta-xylanase during the necrotrophic phase.