One melanized (Mc3) and one non-melanized (Mc3W) multicellular form mutant of W. dermatitidis were compared with parental wild type in NYLAR mice. Each mutant grows as multicellular (muriform-like) forms in vitro at 37 degrees C and as yeasts at less than or equal to 30 degrees C. Yeast cells of all three strains were injected intravenously at concentrations of 1 x 10(4), 1 x 10(6), 1 x 10(7), 3 x 10(7) and 1 x 10(8) cells/mouse in groups of 10 mice. There was no virulence difference between wild type and Mc3, with 100% mortality obtained with each strain at greater than or equal to 1 x 10(7) cells/mouse. In contrast, Mc3W was less virulent, with mortality being obtained only at 1 x 10(8) cells/mouse. Histopathological study of brains, lungs, livers and spleens of moribund mice revealed that both Mc3 and Mc3W persisted in tissue as muriform cells, and in some cases as yeast, pseudohyphal and hyphal forms. There was no major difference between Mc3 and Mc3W in terms of histopathological response. These data support the association between melanin and virulence in W. dermatitidis and provide a model for the study of muriform cells in vivo.