The three-dimensional ultrastructure of Cryptococcus neoformans was studied by quick-freezing and deep-etching (QF-DE) method. C. neoformans, strain CDC551, was cultured on agar. The viable yeast cells (10(7) cells) were inoculated into each mouse from the tail vein. Three weeks after the inoculation, the brains of the mice were perfused with fixatives, quickly frozen, freeze-fractured, deeply etched and rotary shadowed with platinum and carbon. In addition, the viable cells of C. neoformans on agar were picked up and quickly frozen, and replica membranes were prepared as described above. The ultrastructure of C. neoformans was three-dimensionally demonstrated by the QF-DE method. The capsule was composed of fine meshworks of microfibrils (10-13 nm in diameter), which were directly attached to the cell walls. The capsule of the in vivo yeasts (yeast cells in the brain lesion) was thicker than that of the in vitro yeasts (yeast cells on agar culture). At the outer part of the cell wall, a particle-accumulating layer was observed. This layer in vivo was thicker than that in vitro. Occasionally, the yeast cells were ingested by phagocytes in the mouse brain. Although the cytoplasm of such yeast cells was destroyed, the capsular meshworks were well preserved. The ultrastructure of the capsule was the same both in cultured and phagocytized yeasts in the cystic lesions of the brains. This lack of morphological changes of the capsular meshworks suggests that they are resistant to the digestion by phagocytes. This stability of capsular structures may provide one of the important pathogenic factors in cystic lesions by C. neoformans.