Fosfomycin is a cell wall inhibitor used mainly for the treatment of uncomplicated lower urinary tract infections. As shown here, resistance to fosfomycin develops rapidly in Escherichia coli under experimental conditions, but in spite of the relatively high mutation rate in vitro, resistance in clinical isolates is rare. To examine this apparent contradiction, we mathematically modeled the probability of resistance development in the bladder during treatment. The modeling showed that during a typical episode of urinary tract infection, the probability of resistance development was high (>10(-2)). However, if resistance was associated with a reduction in growth rate, the probability of resistance development rapidly decreased. To examine if fosfomycin resistance causes a reduced growth rate, we isolated in vitro and in vivo a set of resistant strains. We determined their resistance mechanisms and examined the effect of the different resistance mutations on bacterial growth in the absence and presence of fosfomycin. The types of mutations found in vitro and in vivo were partly different. Resistance in the mutants isolated in vitro was caused by ptsI, cyaA, glpT, uhpA/T, and unknown mutations, whereas no cyaA or ptsI mutants could be found in vivo. All mutations caused a decreased growth rate both in laboratory medium and in urine, irrespective of the absence or presence of fosfomycin. According to the mathematical model, the reduced growth rate of the resistant strains will prevent them from establishing in the bladder, which could explain why fosfomycin resistance remains rare in clinical isolates.