JC virus (JCV) particles have been detected in urban sewage of divergent geographical areas. In this study, the authors evaluate the genetic characteristics and the infective capabilities of JCV strains in relation to the potential oral transmission of JCV in the population. JCV strains excreted in urine and detected in sewage have been described as presenting archetypal structure of the regulatory region of the viral genome. The regulatory region of JCV viral particles detected in two urban sewage samples have been cloned and characterized. From a total of 40 clones tested, 39 presented archetypal-like regulatory regions, whereas 1 of the clones analyzed presented a tandem repeated structure. Archetypal strains present in the urine of a pregnant woman were able to infect SVG cells, producing infectious virions, as demonstrated by confirmative cell culture, electron microscopy, and in situ DNA hybridization. This is the first description of archetypal JCV productive infection of SVG cells. SVG cells were also successfully infected with Mad-4 JCV viral particles subjected to pH 3 for 1 h at 37 degrees C and to 10 microg/ml of trypsin in the same conditions. A decrease in the viral progeny production was observed when Mad-4 was subjected to acidic pH. Mad-4 did not produce any detectable infection in the enteric cell line CaCo-2. The oral route could represent a significant route of transmission of JCV infections because JCV virions have demonstrated relative resistance in the environment and to some of the conditions present in the gastrointestinal tract. The archetypal strains commonly detected in the environment may be implicated in the transmission of JCV among the population. Sporadic infection with strains presenting tandem repeated structures may have implications in pathogenicity.