Spiroplasma citri is a plant-pathogenic mollicute. Recently, the so-called nonphytopathogenic S. citri mutant GMT 553 was obtained by insertion of transposon Tn4001 into the first gene of the fructose operon. Additional fructose operon mutants were produced either by gene disruption or selection of spontaneous xylitol-resistant strains. The behavior of these spiroplasma mutants in the periwinkle plants has been studied. Plants infected via leafhoppers with the wild-type strain GII-3 began to show symptoms during the first week following the insect-transmission period, and the symptoms rapidly became severe. With the fructose operon mutants, symptoms appeared only during the fourth week and remained mild, except when reversion to a fructose+ phenotype occurred. In this case, the fructose+ revertants quickly overtook the fructose- mutants and the symptoms soon became severe. When mutant GMT 553 was complemented with the fructose operon genes that restore fructose utilization, severe pathogenicity, similar to that of the wild-type strain, was also restored. Finally, plants infected with the wild-type strain and grown at 23 degrees C instead of 30 degrees C showed late symptoms, but these rapidly became severe. These results are discussed in light of the role of fructose in plants. Fructose utilization by the spiroplasmas could impair sucrose loading into the sieve tubes by the companion cells and result in accumulation of carbohydrates in source leaves and depletion of carbon sources in sink tissues.