Encystation of Giardia lamblia entails the appearance of a number of new antigens, as well as formation of a novel class of large encystation-specific secretory vesicles (ESV) that transport stage-specific proteins to the nascent cyst wall. The monoclonal antibody GCSA-1, which was raised against purified cyst walls, recognizes protein species of approximately 26-46 kDa that are regulated by exposure to bile (plus lactic acid) and alkaline pH, the factors that induce encystation. The GCSA-1 epitope is maximally expressed after approximately 14 hr of encystation and localizes to the interior, but not the membrane of the ESV as shown by frozen section immunoelectron microscopy. To further understand the process of encystation, we compared two sublines of strain WB that differ in their ability to encyst in vitro. Water-resistant cysts were not detected in subline A6 under conditions in which subline C6 formed approximately 2 x 10(5) cysts/ml. Moreover, subline A6 did not form ESV efficiently or detectably express antigens recognized by mAb GCSA-1 or by polyclonal anti-cyst sera. Finally, uptake of the bile salt taurocholate by A6 was reduced 4- to 20-fold, compared with that of C6, although transport by both strains was sodium-dependent and regulated by bile salt starvation. The decrease in bile salt uptake by A6 may be related to its defect in encystation.