Evidence obtained with an improved in vivo assay of fimbrial phase variation in Escherichia coli supported a revised understanding of the roles of fimB and fimE in the site-specific DNA rearrangement with which they are associated. A previously proposed model argued that fimB and fimE play antagonistic, unidirectional roles in regulating the orientation of the invertible DNA element located immediately upstream of fimA, the gene encoding the major subunit of type 1 fimbriae. This conclusion, though, is based on an in vivo DNA inversion assay using recombinant plasmid substrates under conditions that, among other things, were incapable of detecting recombination of the fim invertible element from the on to the off orientation. Using a modified system that overcome this and several additional technical problems, we confirmed that fimB acts independently of fimE on the invertible element and that the additional presence of fimE results in the preferential rearrangement of the element to the off orientation. It is now demonstrated that fimE can act in the absence of fimB in this recombination to promote inversion primarily from on to off. In contrast to the previous studies, the effect of fimB on a substrate carrying the invertible element in the on orientation could be examined. It was found that fimB mediates DNA inversion from on to off, as well as from off to on, and that, contrary to prior interpretations, the fimB-associated inversion occurs with only minimal orientational preference to the on phase.