The ability of mumps virus to infect pancreatic Beta cells and cause alterations in their HLA expression was evaluated in cultured human fetal islet cell clusters. Mumps virus could be isolated during the whole culture period (6-8 days) and 60% of cells, including Beta cells, contained viral nucleocapsid protein at the end of the culturing. A minor decrease in insulin secretion was observed in some of the infected cultures. The infection was invariably associated with an increase in the expression of HLA class I molecules. This enhancement was mediated by soluble factors secreted by infected cells. The infection could not induce the expression of HLA-DR molecules. However, external interferon-gamma was able to cause a clear rise in DR-expression which was observed only on non-Beta-cells. Rubella and coxsackie B4 viruses were also able to enhance the expression of class I molecules while herpes simplex virus type 2 was not. The results suggest that certain viruses are able to infect Beta cells and cause alterations in their immunological appearance. Increased HLA class I expression in infected islets may exaggerate the autoimmune process in pre-diabetic individuals by increasing the activity of autoreactive cytotoxic T cells.