Cultured metacyclic forms of Trypanosoma congolense display a characteristic repertoire of metacyclic variable antigen types (M-VATs) similar to that exhibited in vitro in the tsetse fly. There appeared to be no change in expression of M-VATs in cultures of two stocks of T. congolense even after several passages, cryopreservation or long-term cultivation in vitro. Metacyclic forms transformed into mammalian forms when transferred to cultures of bovine aorta endothelial cells and whilst one stock retained expression of M-VATs without change even after 4 months, the other stock underwent antigenic variation within 14 days of transfer. Analysis of the M-VAT composition of mammalian forms of this stock using monoclonal antibodies showed that although the proportion of mammalian forms expressing certain M-VATs declined considerably, trypanosomes expressing one M-VAT increased proportionally to comprise 50 % of the population. In contrast, only small changes were seen in antigen expression in cultures of metacyclic trypanosomes from which mammalian-form cultures were derived. It was possible to produce in vitro, loss and reacquisition of variable antigen surface coat, similar to the differentiation process occurring when bloodstream trypanosomes are ingested by the tsetse fly and eventually develop into metacyclic forms.