The infective behavior of a mutant Trypanosoma cruzi clone, carrying a targeted deletion of the gp72 gene, was studied in the insect vector Triatoma infestans and in mice. After feeding T infestans with complement-resistant forms (CRF) of Ynull and wild-type clones, it was observed that the number of parasites released in the bug's feces was reduced to less than 1% in the mutant clone. Both gp72-null and wild-type clones had a low infectivity for mice in comparison with other T. cruzi isolates, probably as a consequence of prolonged in vitro culture. Therefore, the behavior of both clones was tested in highly susceptible BALB suckling mice and immunodeficient athymic mice. After infecting the animals with 10(5) CRF, wild-type parasites could be detected in fresh blood mounts of most mice, but mutants were never found by this method. However, in 4 of 22 hemocultures from 11 athymic mice, gp72-null epimastigotes carrying the mutant phenotype were reisolated by day 29 of infection. Serological and polymerase chain reaction determinations performed on the blood of animals inoculated with the mutants indicated the possibility of temporary infections, which were extinguished after 90 days. The intact GP72 gene seems essential for sustaining latent infections in immunocompetent animals.