The dietary isoflavone genistein is the focus of much research involving its role as a potential therapeutic agent in a variety of diseases, including cancer and heart disease. However, there is recent evidence that dietary genistein may also have an inhibitory effect on extraintestinal invasion of enteric bacteria. To study the effects of genistein on bacterial adherence and internalization by confluent enterocytes, Caco-2 and HT-29 enterocytes (cultivated for 15-18 d and 21-24 d, respectively) were pretreated for 1 h with 0, 30, 100, or 300 μmol/L genistein, followed by 1-h incubation with pure cultures of Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella typhimurium, Proteus mirabilis, or Escherichia coli. Pretreatment of Caco-2 and HT-29 enterocytes with genistein inhibited bacterial internalization in a dose-dependent manner (r = 0.60-0.79). Compared to untreated enterocytes, 1-h pretreatment with 300 μmol/L genistein was generally associated with decreased bacterial internalization (P < 0.05) without a corresponding decrease in bacterial adherence. Using Caco-2 cell cultures, decreased bacterial internalization was associated with increased integrity of enterocyte tight junctions [measured by increased transepithelial electrical resistance (TEER)], with alterations in the distribution of enterocyte perijunctional actin filaments (visualized by fluorescein-labeled phalloidin), and with abrogation of the decreased TEER associated with S. typhimurium and E. coli incubation with the enterocytes (P < 0.01). Thus, genistein was associated with inhibition of enterocyte internalization of enteric bacteria by a mechanism that might be related to the integrity of the enterocyte tight junctions, suggesting that genistein might function as a barrier-sustaining agent, inhibiting extraintestinal invasion of enteric bacteria.