The virulence of different isolates of MAC was studied in naturally susceptible BALB/c mice. In preliminary experiments, MAC bacteria forming smooth transparent colonies on solid media (SmT variants) were found to be virulent for BALB/c mice, causing progressive infection; smooth opaque (SmOp) were generally avirulent, being slowly eliminated from the infected organs; and rough (Rg) variants were either avirulent or as virulent as SmT variants. We chose to compare the virulence of different isolates of MAC of different origins, studying only the SmT morphotype. Strains of MAC isolated from naturally infected animals were those that most consistently caused progressive infections. AIDS patients-derived isolates were of intermediate virulence or devoid of virulence in mice. The environmental strains were eliminated from mice or did not proliferate. Strains of MAC isolated from individuals who were not infected by HIV varied in virulence from completely avirulent to highly virulent. There was no close correlation between virulence and restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) type, although all highly virulent strains were of the A/I type. There was also no correlation between virulence analysed in vivo and the ability to grow in cultured macrophages.