Neisseria meningitidis is a human specific pathogen that is part of the normal nasopharyngeal flora. Little is known about the metabolic constraints on survival of the meningococcus during colonization of the upper airways. Here we show that glucose and lactate, both carbon energy sources for meningococcal growth, are present in millimolar concentrations within nasopharyngeal tissue. We used a mutant defective for the uptake of lactate (C311DeltalctP) to investigate the contribution of this energy source during colonization. Explants of nasopharyngeal tissue were inoculated with the wild-type strain (C311) and C311DeltalctP; the mutant was recovered at significantly lower levels (P = 0.01) than C311 18 h later. This defect was not due to changes in the expression of adhesins or initial adhesion in C311DeltalctP to epithelial cells. Instead, lactate appears to be important energy source for the bacterium during colonization and is necessary for growth of the bacterium in nasopharyngeal tissue. Studies with other strains defective for the uptake of specific nutrients should provide valuable information about the environment in which N. meningitidis persists during carriage.