Acute infection of fibroblastic cell lines by the Indiana strain of vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) usually induces dramatic cytopathic effects and shutoff of cellular gene expression. We have compared a series of independent mutants with differences in shutoff induction and found that M was mutated either in the N-terminus (M(51)R) or C-terminus (V(221)F and S(226)R). Furthermore, only double mutants (M mutation and a ts mutation related or not to M) were able to persist on fibroblast cell lines at 39 degrees C. A more detailed investigation of the infection was performed for the mutants T1026, TP3 and G31, differing in their host shutoff effects related to M protein. Viral activity in persistently infected mouse L-929 and monkey Vero cell lines was followed by viral proteins detection, RNA synthesis throughout infection and finally detection of infectious particles. All three mutants cause extensive CPE followed by emergence of persistently infected cells on Vero cells. The same thing is seen on L-929 cells except for T1026 which causes little CPE. Taken together, the results form a basis of further studies to clarify how various viral and cellular factors interact in the establishment of a persistent infection by VSV mutants.