The course of naturally acquired Lawsonia intracellularis infection was studied in 41 pigs by testing blood and faeces samples collected four to seven times from before weaning to slaughter 5 months old. At slaughter, a sample of ileum was taken for histopathology. In the first sampling when the pigs were 2-4 weeks old maternally derived IgG against L. intracellularis was demonstrated by immunofluorescence antibody test in nine pigs whereas the bacterium was detected by PCR in faeces from six pigs. The maternally derived antibodies did not prevent pigs from becoming infected as seven pigs later on shed and/or were seropositive for L. intracellularis. The lowest prevalence of L. intracellularis was observed in 6-13 weeks old pigs and it seemed as though L. intracellularis in early infected pigs only activates a minor antibody response. At slaughter 66% of the pigs were found positive by immunofluorescence antibody test compared to 24% by immunohistochemistry on ileal samples. Thus, applied at the time of slaughter the antibody test appeared to be a highly sensitive ante-mortem diagnostic tool for identifying L. intracelluaris exposed pigs with or without current proliferative enteropathy. (c) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.