Background: Listeria monocytogenes has been implicated in several food borne outbreaks as well as sporadic cases of disease. Increased understanding of the biology of this organism is important in the prevention of food borne listeriosis. The infectivity of Listeria monocytogenes ScottA, cultivated with and without oxygen restriction, was compared in vitro and in vivo. Fluorescent protein labels were applied to allow certain identification of Listeria cells from untagged bacteria in in vivo samples, and to distinguish between cells grown under different conditions in mixed infection experiments. Results: Infection of Caco-2 cells revealed that Listeria cultivated under oxygen-restricted conditions were approximately 100 fold more invasive than similar cultures grown without oxygen restriction. This was observed for exponentially growing bacteria, as well as for stationary-phase cultures. Oral dosage of guinea pigs with Listeria resulted in a significantly higher prevalence (p <0.05) of these bacteria in jejunum, liver and spleen four and seven days after challenge, when the bacterial cultures had been grown under oxygen- restricted conditions prior to dosage. Additionally, a 10-100 fold higher concentration of Listeria in fecal samples was observed after dosage with oxygen-restricted bacteria. These differences were seen after challenge with single Listeria cultures, as well as with a mixture of two cultures grown with and without oxygen restriction. Conclusion: Our results show for the first time that the environmental conditions to which L. monocytogenes is exposed prior to ingestion are decisive for its in vivo infective potential in the gastrointestinal tract after passage of the gastric barrier. This is highly relevant for safety assessment of this organism in food.