The susceptibilities of different strains of inbred rats to infection with the human T-cell leukemia virus (HTLV-I) after inoculation of human HTLV-I producer cell lines were compared. The Fisher F344 and Brown Norway strains developed the highest antibody response to HTLV-I, while the Lewis and BB strains were low responders. Antibodies against the HTLV-I gag proteins, and env gp21 but not env gp46, were detected in Western blots with sera from HTLV-I-infected Fischer F344 and Brown Norway rats. These sera were inactive in an in vitro syncytium-formation inhibition test. The HTLV-I provirus was detected by polymerase chain reaction in all Fischer F344, and some Lewis and Brown Norway rats, but not in the BB, which lack CD8+ T lymphocytes. The most frequent locations of the HTLV-I provirus in the Fischer F344, Lewis and Brown Norway rats at 12 weeks after infection were the peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) and spinal cord. In a second experiment in Brown Norway rats, the provirus was again detected in the PBMC of rats at 12 weeks, but not at 22 weeks, and among the other organs tested at 22 weeks the sympathetic nerve ganglia were positive. It is concluded that HTLV-I infection occurs in adult rats, but is suppressed with time.