Rickettsia conorii, the etiologic agent of Mediterranean spotted fever is widely distributed in Southern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India and the Caspian region. In the Mediterranean region, the brown dog tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus, is the recognized vector of R. conorii. To study tick-pathogen relationships and pathogenesis of infection caused in model animals by the bite of an infected tick, we attempted to establish a laboratory colony of Rh. sanguineus persistently infected with R. conorii. Rhipicephalus sanguineus ticks of North American and Mediterranean origin were exposed to R. conorii isolates of African (R. conorii conorii strain Malish) and Mediterranean (R. conorii israelensis strain ISTT) origin. Feeding of ticks upon infected mice and dogs, intra-hemocoel inoculation, and submersion in suspensions of purified rickettsiae were used to introduce the pathogen into uninfected ticks. Feeding success, molting success and the longevity of molted ticks were measured to assess the effects of R. conorii on the survival of Rh. sanguineus. In concordance with previously published results, Rh. sanguineus larvae and nymphs from both North American and Mediterranean colonies exposed to R. conorii conorii Malish experienced high mortality during feeding and molting or immediately after. The prevalence of infection in surviving ticks did not exceed 5%. On the other hand, exposure to ISTT strain had lesser effect on tick survival and resulted in 35-66% prevalence of infection. Rh. sanguineus of Mediterranean origin were more susceptible to infection with either strain of R. conorii than those from North America. Previous experimental studies had demonstrated transovarial and transstadial transmission of R. conorii in Rh. sanguineus; however, our data suggest that different strains of R. conorii may employ different means of maintenance in nature. The vertebrate host may be a more important reservoir than previously thought, or co-feeding transmission between different generations of ticks may obviate or lessen the requirement for transovarial maintenance of R. conorii.