Metacyclic trypomastigotes of Trypanosoma cruzi have been obtained in chemically defined axenic culture. The differentiating medium, composed of artificial triatomine urine supplemented with proline, allows high yields of metacyclic trypomastigotes after 72-h incubation of T. cruzi cells at 27 degrees C. Morphological differentiation of the parasites is gradual under these chemically defined conditions and is preceded by the expression of stage-specific polypeptides. The yield of in vitro-induced metacyclic trypomastigotes depends upon the age of the epimastigote culture, the size of the inoculum and the depth of the medium. Metacyclic trypomastigotes differentiated in vitro from the Dm 28c clone of T. cruzi are both resistant to complement lysis and to macrophage digestion. They are able to infect mice with an efficiency similar to that obtained for natural metacyclic trypomastigotes obtained from triatomine excreta.