Intracerebral inoculation of the neurotropic murine picornavirus, Theiler's murine encephalomyelitis virus (TMEV), results either in an acute encephalitis (GDVII strain) or in the establishment of a persistent infection with the development of demyelinating lesions (BeAn strain). In this article, the expression of the viral RNA polymerase was studied in the central nervous system of both acutely and persistently infected mice and in infected cells in tissue culture. Similar numbers of acutely infected glial cells (80–85%) expressed both viral polymerase and structural proteins while a much smaller proportion of persistently infected glial cells (0·6–0·9%) expressed these proteins. Following infection of mice with GDVII, many cells in the brain were found to express polymerase. However, in the spinal cord of mice persistently infected with BeAn, very few cells were found to express the polymerase while many more cells showed the presence of viral structural proteins. This suggests that a restriction in viral replication, possibly at the level of polymerase expression, may be a feature of the persistent infection. However, enough polymerase was expressed to maintain a polymerase-specific antibody response in a number of infected animals as late as 21 months post-infection. Mechanisms that may be involved in the establishment and maintainance of TMEV persistence are discussed with reference to these findings.


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