We characterized the intravenous (i.v.) challenge model for disseminated Candida albicans infection in female BALB/c and DBA/2 mice. Clearance of fungi from the bloodstream and appearance of fungi in tissues were measured at intervals after challenge with various doses of C. albicans. The wild-type isolate SC5314 and derived strains CAF2-1 and CAI-4 transformed with CIp10 were of equal virulence in the model. Variability in mouse survival times, kidney fungal burdens and cachexia was lowest when challenge inocula were within the range 10(4)-10(5) CFU g(-1) body weight in BALB/c mice, but brain fungal burdens and outcomes in DBA/2 mice were variable for all inocula tested. Critical times in the development of infections in optimally challenged BALB/c mice were at 5-10 h (bloodstream fully cleared of fungi), 24 h (start of exponential fungal growth in kidneys) and 48 h (50% of blood cultures become positive). Differential involvement of right and left kidneys occurred almost exclusively in mice challenged with <2 x 10(4) CFU g(-1). We conclude that the i.v. challenge model in female BALB/c mice is now sufficiently well characterized to permit more refined experimentation in future virulence studies with C. albicans mutants.