Summary Background Studies on probiotics mainly base their results on faecal samples, which may not represent the situation in the mucosa of distal and proximal colon. Aim In a placebo-controlled study, to assess the effect of Lactobacillus plantarum 299v on the bacterial composition of faecal vs. mucosal samples. Methods Twenty-nine patients undergoing colonoscopic examination for polyps consumed a twice-daily drink with or without L. plantarum 299v (10(11) CFU/day) for 2 weeks. Faecal samples were collected before and after consumption. During colonoscopy, biopsies were collected from the ascending colon and rectum. The faecal and mucosal bacterial concentrations and prevalence were determined. Results L. plantarum 299v significantly increased the concentration of faecal lactic acid bacteria, lactobacilli and clostridia, and was identified in two rectal biopsies but not in the ascending colon biopsies of probiotic-treated subjects. Concentrations and prevalence in ascending colon and rectum biopsies were comparable, but were significantly lower compared with faecal samples. Conclusions After probiotic consumption, a significant increase in the faecal concentration of lactobacilli was found but concentrations were low in biopsies. The bacterial composition in biopsies of the ascending colon and rectum did not differ based on culture techniques. To further elucidate the modes of action of probiotics, it might be necessary to study differences in colonization with molecular techniques.