Gram-negative bacteria are a dominant cause of urinary tract infection, and their ability to produce toxins is an important virulence attribute. Cellular mechanisms triggered by the production of toxins in the lower urinary tract have not been completely defined. Ureteral epithelial cells (UT; A. Elgavish, Infect. Immun. 61:3304-3312, 1993) have served as an in vitro model to explore the possibility that bacterial toxins act on UT by affecting integrin-mediated adhesive properties. The effect of treatment with lipopolysaccharides (LPS) from three strains of the gram-negative Escherichia coli [055:B5 (LPS-1), 0111:B4 (LPS-4), and 0127:B8 (LPS-5)] and lipoteichoic acids from two gram-positive bacteria, Streptococcus faecalis (LT-2) and Bacillus subtilis (LT-3), were examined. LPS-5 inhibited markedly UT attachment to collagen and fibronectin. LPS-4 had no effect, whereas LPS-1 inhibited UT attachment to collagen but not to fibronectin. The fact that LPS-5 and LT-2 inhibited an Arg-Gly-Asp sequence-sensitive component of UT attachment to fibronectin is consistent with the possibility that these toxins acted via a mechanism involving typical fibronectin receptors. UT spreading was inhibited markedly by LPS-1, LT-2, and LT-3, whereas LPS-4 and LPS-5 had no effect. Because clustering of integrins is a crucial step in integrin-mediated signal transduction, the possibility that toxins inhibited spreading by affecting clustering was tested. Treatment with LT-2, which inhibited spreading dramatically, abolished completely a UT cell population containing more than five to eight β1- or β4-subunit-containing integrin clusters. Moreover, the cell population displaying low numbers of β1- containing clusters per cell decreased considerably. LPS-5, which had no effect on spreading, did not affect clustering of β1- or β4-subunit- containing integrins. Taken together, the present studies are consistent with the possibility that treatment with certain bacterial toxins inhibits UT attachment and spreading on collagen and fibronectin and that integrins are involved in their mechanism of action.