It is widely assumed that barren Strongyloides stercoralis occurring in chronically infected carriers can become fecund when immunity wanes. Evidence for this involves corticosteroid treatment of hosts harboring occult infections that subsequently return to patency. However, nematodes have ecdysteroid receptors, and it has been suggested that corticosteroids act directly on the parasite, inducing autoinfective development, rather than indirectly by suppressing host immunity. To test these competing concepts, barren females were recovered from donor dogs when the dogs' fecal examinations turned negative. Groups of 100 active barren worms were surgically transplanted into the small intestines of each of 6 naive canine recipients. Three were examined at necropsy at 4-5 days postinfection (PI), before autoinfection could amplify the number of successfully transferred parasites. The remaining recipients were examined 21-22 days PI when, if autoinfection had occurred, the worm populations should have increased. At 4-5 days, gravid worms occurred in each of the recipients (19 +/- 6 worms/dog). By 21-22 days, a remarkable population increase had occurred (522.6 +/- 296 worms/dog). Worms from chronically infected donors were stunted, and electron microscopy revealed damage to the intestine and ovaries. Successfully transplanted worms recovered at days 4-5 PI were ovigerous and less stunted and showed repair of intestinal and ovarian tissues.