ABSTRACT As a group, the coagulase-negative staphylococci (CoNS) are among the most frequently isolated bacteria in the clinical microbiology laboratory and are becoming increasingly important, especially as causes of hospital-acquired infections. These bacteria are normal inhabitants of human skin and mucous membranes and, therefore, one of the major challenges of daily diagnostic work is to distinguish clinically significant CoNS from contaminant strains. This overview addresses current knowledge of the pathogenesis of infections due to CoNS and particularly focuses on virulence factors of the species Staphylococcus epidermidis. S epidermidis has been identified as a major cause of nosocomial infections, especially in patients with predisposing factors such as indwelling or implanted foreign polymer bodies. Most important in the pathogenesis of foreign-body-associated infections is the ability of these bacteria to colonise the polymer surface by the formation of a thick, multilayered biofilm. Biofilm formation takes place in two phases. The first phase involves the attachment of the bacteria to polymer surfaces that may be either unmodified or coated with host extracellular matrix proteins. In the second phase, the bacteria proliferate and accumulate into multilayered cell clusters that are embedded in an extracellular material. The bacterial factors involved in both phases of biofilm formation are discussed in this review. In addition, the most important aspects of the pathogenic potential of S saprophyticus, S lugdunensis, and S schleiferi are described, although, compared with S epidermidis, much less is known in these species concerning their virulence factors.