The invasion of host cells by sporozoites of Toxoplasma gondii leads to the formation of parasitophorous vacuoles that are distinctly different from those surrounding tachyzoites. In sporozoite-infected cells, the fluid-filled space surrounding the sporozoite is many times larger in volume than the sporozoite, essentially lacks granular or tubular structures, and has no detectable continuous parasitophorous vacuolar membrane when prepared by conventional electron microscopic methods. Consistent with the ultrastructural differences, dense-granule protein GRA3, which associates with the parasitophorous vacuolar membrane of tachyzoites, was not detected by indirect immunofluorescence in sporozoite-infected cells 2-12 h post-inoculation or by Western blot analysis of sporozoite extracts. Western blots incubated with the alpha ROP/DG antiserum, which recognizes tachyzoite rhoptry and dense-granule proteins, revealed numerous other antigenic differences between sporozoites and tachyzoites. Cell cultures inoculated with sporozoites were monitored at various intervals for the expression of GRA3 and the developmentally-regulated tachyzoite surface protein SAG1. Expression of SAG1 and GRA3 was first observed in 30% of the sporozoite-infected cells at 12 and 15 h post-inoculation, respectively, and in all intracellular parasites at 24 h. Parasite replication was only observed in sporozoite-infected cells that were positive for GRA3 and SAG1. Thus, these data indicate that sporozoites and their interaction with host cells differ substantially from tachyzoites and the expression of tachyzoite-specific proteins is likely required for parasite replication.