The genus Mycobacterium comprises highly pathogenic as well as opportunistic or apathogenic species exhibiting a great variability with respect to their ability to persist or multiply within monocytic host cells. The impact of the permeability of the mycobacterial outer membrane on intracellular persistence was studied. For this purpose, a Mycobacterium smegmatis mutant with a deletion of the major porin gene mspA and a second mutant lacking mspA and the homologous porin gene mspC were used. Deletion of mspA together with mspC significantly enhanced intracellular persistence in murine bone marrow macrophages, the mouse macrophage cell line J774A.1 and Acanthamoeba castellanii. Complementation of mspA in the porin mutant strains resulted in restoration of the wild-type phenotype with respect to intracellular persistence. This is the first report to show that the deletion of porins of mycobacteria results in improved persistence in eukaryotic cells, demonstrating that the intracellular persistence of M. smegmatis depends upon the permeability of the outer membrane. © 2005 SGM.