Background: Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP), the causative agent of Johne's disease (JD) persistently infects and survives within the host macrophages. While it is established that substantial genotypic variation exists among MAP, evidence for the correlates that associate specific MAP genotypes with clinical or sub-clinical disease phenotypes is presently unknown. Thus we studied strain differences in intracellular MAP survival and host responses in a bovine monocyte derived macrophage (MDM) system. Results: Intracellular survival studies showed that a bovine MAP isolate (B1018) and a human MAP isolate (Hu6) persisted in relatively higher numbers when compared with a sheep MAP isolate (S7565) at 24-hr, 48-hr and 96-hr post infection (PI). MDMs stimulated with B1018 up-regulated IL-10 at the transcript level and down-regulated TNFα at the protein and transcript levels compared with stimulations by the S7565 and Hu6. MDMs infected with Hu6 showed a down regulatory pattern of IL-10 and TNFα compared to stimulations by S7565. Cells stimulated with B1018 and Hu6 had low levels of matrix metalloprotease-3 (MMP3) and high levels of tissue inhibitor of metalloprotease-1 (TIMP1) at 96-hr PI relative to MDMs stimulated by S7565. Conclusion: Taken together, results suggest that the bovine (B1018) and the human (Hu6) MAP isolates lead to anti-inflammatory and anti-invasive pathways in the macrophage environment whereas the sheep (S7565) MAP isolate induces a pro-inflammatory pathway. Thus the infecting strain genotype may play a role in polarizing the host immune responses and dictate the clinicopathological outcomes in this economically important disease.