The localization of Serpulina hyodysenteriae in experimental swine dysentery was studied by fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) using an oligonucleotide probe targeting the 23S rRNA of S. hyodysenteriae. Nine 8-week-old pigs were challenged. Seven of the pigs were intragastrically dosed with 1x10(9) cfu S. hyodysenteriae for 3 consecutive days, whereas two pigs were infected by contact. Six non-challenged pigs served as negative controls. The challenged pigs developed clinical swine dysentery from 8 to 14 days postinfection with typical gross lesions. By FISH S. hyodysenteriae cells in huge numbers were found colonizing the mucus layer, the luminal epithelium and the crypts of the large intestinal mucosa. The orientation of the spirochaetes to the epithelium appeared to be random. Spirochaetes in clusters or as single cells were invading the epithelium and were occasionally detected in the adjacent lamina propria. The distribution of spirochaetes in the mucosa provides further evidence that S. hyodysenteriae is intimately associated with the mucus layer and the epithelium in a random pattern. Furthermore, the results demonstrate the applicability of FISH for specific detection of S. hyodysenteriae cells in clusters or as single cells in formalin-fixed tissue samples.