Diverticular disease of the sigmoid colon is an increasingly common clinical problem in the ageing population of western industrialised countries but the mechanism by which the disease develops remains unknown. The muscular abnormality is the most striking and consistent feature and this has been studied by light and electron microscopy in 25 surgical specimens of uncomplicated diverticular disease and in 25 controls. This is the first ultrastructural study of human colonic muscle to be published and shows that the muscle cells in diverticular disease are normal; neither hypertrophy nor hyperplasia is present. There is, however, an increase in the elastin content of the taeniae coli by greater than 200% compared with controls: elastin is laid down between the muscle cells and the normal fascicular pattern of the taeniae coli is distorted. There is no alteration in the elastin content of the circular muscle. As elastin is laid down in a contracted form, this elastosis may be responsible for the shortening or 'contracture' of the taeniae which in turn leads to the characteristic concertina-like corrugation of the circular muscle. Such a structural change could explain the altered behaviour of the colon wall in diverticular disease and its failure to change on treatment with bran.