A longitudinal study was conducted to investigate the nature of Escherichia coli O157:H7 colonization of feedlot cattle over the final 100 to 110 days of finishing. Rectal fecal grab samples were collected from an initial sample population of 788 steers every 20 to 22 days and microbiologically analyzed to detect E. coli O157:H7. The identities of presumptive colonies were confirmed using a multiplex PCR assay that screened for gene fragments unique to E. coli O157:H7 (rfbE and fliCh7) and other key virulence genes (eae, stx1, and stx2). Animals were classified as having persistent shedding (PS), transient shedding (TS), or nonshedding (NS) status if they consecutively shed the same E. coli O157:H7 genotype (based on the multiplex PCR profile), exhibited variable E. coli O157 shedding, or never shed morphologically typical E. coli O157, respectively. Overall, 1.0% and 1.4% of steers were classified as PS and NS animals, respectively. Characterization of 132 E. coli O157:H7 isolates from PS and TS animals by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) typing yielded 32 unique PFGE types. One predominant PFGE type accounted for 53% of all isolates characterized and persisted in cattle throughout the study. Isolates belonging to this predominant and persistent PFGE type demonstrated an enhanced (P < 0.0001) ability to adhere to Caco-2 human intestinal epithelial cells compared to isolates belonging to less common PFGE types but exhibited equal virulence expression. Interestingly, the attachment efficacy decreased as the genetic divergence from the predominant and persistent subtype increased. Our data support the hypothesis that certain E. coli O157:H7 strains persist in feedlot cattle, which may be partially explained by an enhanced ability to colonize the intestinal epithelium.