Chlamydiae are medically important bacteria responsible for a wide range of human infections and diseases. Repeated episodes of infection promote chronic inflammation associated with detrimental immune system-mediated pathologic changes. However, the true nature of chlamydial pathogenesis may encompass repeated infection superimposed upon persistent infection, which would allow for heightened immune reactivity. During the course of chlamydial infection, numerous host-elaborated factors with inhibitory or modifying effects may cause alterations in the chlamydial-host cell relationship such that the organism is maintained in a nonproductive stage of growth. Abnormal or persistent chlamydiae have been recognized under a variety of cell culture systems. The numerous factors associated with altered growth suggest an innate flexibility in the developmental cycle of chlamydiae. This review evaluates in vitro studies of chlamydial persistence and correlates these model systems to features of natural chlamydial disease.