Isolates of Mycobacterium avium-intracellulare (MAI) form multiple colony types named red-opaque, white-opaque, red-transparent (RT), and white-transparent (WT). The newly discovered WT morphotype is multidrug resistant relative to other variants in vitro. To determine whether the WT morphotype occurs in humans, 32 MAI-positive clinical samples from 2 sites were plated directly onto indicator agar without prior passage in vitro. WT was the predominant morphotype in 26 (81%) of these samples and was absent in only 2 samples. WT variants grew better than isogenic RT variants in mouse and human macrophage models of infection, and RT clones that passed through such systems underwent rapid shifts to the WT morphotype. The RT morphotype was heterogeneous with regard to infectivity. In summary, the white morphotype was common in humans and was favored in disease models. It may play an important role in the establishment and persistence of MAI infection.