Human cytomegalovirus (CMV) infections are frequently associated with graft rejection in the immunosuppressed patients following organ transplantation. Thirty-four tissue samples from rejected kidneys and 18 samples from normal adult kidneys obtained from autopsies were investigated for the presence of CMV-DNA by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and by immunohistochemistry. DNA extracted from renal tissues after proteinase K digestion was specifically amplified in 32 cycles using primers which flank a 147 bp DNA fragment of the immediate early CMV gene and analysed by slot-blot hybridization with digoxigenin-labelled detection oligonucleotides. CMV-DNA was detected by PCR in a range from 0.1 fg up to 100 fg in 14 (41%) rejected kidney transplants. Comparative immunohistological analysis revealed presence of CMV in only three biopsies of these rejected kidneys. Furthermore, CMV-DNA was also found in four of 18 (22%) normal donor kidneys. These results reveal that CMV is often present in rejected kidneys and that the infection can be transferred from the donor to the recipient, since the normal adult kidney appears to be a frequent site of latency for CMV. No differences in local immunological changes, characterized by interstitial mononuclear leukocyte infiltration as well as by aberrant expression of HLA-class II antigens and of ICAM1 on proximal tubular epithelial cells, could be detected by further immunohistological analysis between grafted kidneys at late stage of rejection with and without CMV infection.