Although the transmission of coxsackievirus B3 occurs mainly via the oral route, little is known about the primary replication and persistence of this agent in the intestine. To address this question, BALB/c mice were inoculated by gavage with coxsackievirus B3, Nancy strain. The mice were killed from 1 hr to 90 days after infection. The viral markers were detected in the small intestine using RT-PCR, cell culture and detection of VP1 protein. Coxsackievirus B3 was detected positive by the three methods from hr 2 to day 45 after infection. By using monoclonal antibodies directed towards VP1, CD40 and CD26, the virus was shown to be present in the lymphocytes of the mucosa as soon as 2 hr after infection; in contrast, no virus was detected in the epithelial cells lining the intestinal lumen. Further experiments were performed to evaluate the capacity of coxsackievirus B3 to establish a persistent infection in two intestinal cell lines. In contrast to HT29 cells, the CaCo-2 cells were shown to develop a persistent infection for up to 20 passages, as demonstrated by the detection of viral RNA and VP1 protein. This study provides further evidence that, after infection by the oral route, the viral particles are concentrated in the lymphocytes of the mucosal layer. In addition, the results suggest that coxsackievirus B3 is capable of establishing a persistent infection in the small intestine that may act as a reservoir of viral particles for the delayed spread of the virus to other target organs.