An experimental oral infection of goats with a caprine isolate of Mycobacterium a. subsp. paratuberculosis was used to investigate immunological and bacteriological events during the subclinical phase of infection. Seven goats at 5-8 weeks of age were given a bacterial suspension in milk-replacement three times weekly for 9 weeks. Six animals were kept as controls. Cellular recall responses against M. a. paratuberculosis were analysed by means of a lymphocyte proliferation test, an IFN-gamma assay and an IL-2 receptor assay. All inoculated animals had detectable CMI responses from 9 weeks post-inoculation and through the 2 years of study, although the responses were highest during the first year. Antibodies against M. a. paratuberculosis could be detected from weeks 15-20 in four of the seven animals, and one additional animal became antibody positive at week 35, while two inoculated animals did not produce significant antibody titres during the experiment. At about 1-year post-inoculation, two animals became faecal shedders, while two others started to excrete bacteria into faeces about 2 years post-inoculation. The appearance of M. a. paratuberculosis in faeces was not associated with a decline in cellular responses as far as could be assessed using the current methods for measuring CMI. Pathological lesions due to M. a. paratuberculosis infection and presence of bacteria were recorded in the intestine and/or mesenteric lymph nodes of five animals while lymph node changes suggestive of paratuberculosis were observed in one animal. Only the two animals with no signs of an active infection at necropsy showed a considerable decline in the cellular parameters during the last year of the study, particularly in the IFN-gamma assay. The two animals with the highest levels of M. a. paratuberculosis responsive CD8+ lymphocytes in the circulation about 1-year post-inoculation had no detectable lesions in the distal ileum and colon at necropsy, while high numbers of gammadelta T-cells responsive to M. a. paratuberculosis in the circulation were associated with disseminated lesions in the distal ileum and colon.