The build up of an equilibrium between mutation, selection, and drift in populations of moderate size is an important evolutionary issue, and can be critical in the conservation of endangered populations. We studied this process in two Drosophila melanogaster populations initially lacking genetic variability (C1 and C2) that were subsequently maintained during 431 or 165 generations with effective population size N(e) approximately 500 (estimated by lethal complementation analysis). Each population originated synchronously to a companion set of full-sib mutation accumulation (MA) lines, C1 and MA1 were derived from an isogenic origin and C2 and MA2 from a single MA1 line at generation 265. The results suggest that both C1 and C2 populations were close to the mutation-selection-drift balance for viability and bristle traits, and are consistent with a 2.5-fold increase of the mutation rate in C2 and MA2. Despite this increase, the average panmictic viability in C2 was only slightly below that of C1, indicating that the expressed loads due to segregating deleterious mutation were small, in agreement with the low deleterious mutation rate (0.015-0.045) previously reported for the MA1 lines. In C1, the nonlethal inbreeding depression rate for viability was 30% of that usually estimated in segregating populations. The genetic variance for bristles regenerated in C1 and C2 was moderately smaller than the average value reported for natural populations, implying that they have accumulated a substantial adaptive potential. In light of neutral and selective predictions, these results suggest that bristle additive variance was predominantly due to segregation of mutations with deleterious effects of the order of 10(-3), and is consistent with relatively weak causal stabilizing selection (V(s) approximately 30).