Mycoplasma pneumoniae is an important cause of respiratory disease, especially in school-age children and young adults. We employed normal human bronchial epithelial (NHBE) cells in air-liquid interface culture to study the interaction of M. pneumoniae with differentiated airway epithelium. These airway cells, when grown in air-liquid interface culture, polarize, form tight junctions, produce mucus, and develop ciliary function. We examined both qualitatively and quantitatively the role of mycoplasma gliding motility in the colonization pattern of developing airway cells, comparing wild-type M. pneumoniae and mutants thereof with moderate to severe defects in gliding motility. Adherence assays with radiolabeled mycoplasmas demonstrated a dramatic reduction in binding for all strains with airway cell polarization, independent of acquisition of mucociliary function. Adherence levels dropped further once NHBE cells achieved terminal differentiation, with mucociliary activity strongly selecting for full gliding competence. Analysis over time by confocal microscopy demonstrated a distinct colonization pattern that appeared to originate primarily with ciliated cells, but lateral spread from the base of the cilia was slower than expected. The data support a model in which the mucociliary apparatus impairs colonization yet cilia provide a conduit for mycoplasma access to the host cell surface and suggest acquisition of a barrier function, perhaps associated with tethered mucin levels, with NHBE cell polarization.