Although most inbred mouse strains are highly susceptible to mouse hepatitis virus (MHV) infection, the inbred SJL line of mice is highly resistant to its infection. The principal receptor for MHV is murine CEACAM1 (mCEACAM1). Susceptible strains of mice are homozygous for the 1a allele of mCeacam1, while SJL mice are homozygous for the 1b allele. mCEACAM1a (1a) has a 10- to 100-fold-higher receptor activity than does mCEACAM1b (1b). To explore the hypothesis that MHV susceptibility is due to the different MHV receptor activities of 1a and 1b, we established a chimeric C57BL/6 mouse (cB61ba) in which a part of the N-terminal immunoglobulin (Ig)-like domain of the mCeacam1a (1a) gene, which is responsible for MHV receptor function, is replaced by the corresponding region of mCeacam1b (1b). We compared the MHV susceptibility of these chimeric mice to that of SJL and B6 mice. B6 mice that are homozygous for 1a are highly susceptible to MHV-A59 infection, with a 50% lethal dose (LD(50)) of 10(2.5) PFU, while chimeric cB61ba mice and SJL mice homozygous for 1ba and 1b, respectively, survived following inoculation with 10(5) PFU. Unexpectedly, cB61ba mice were more resistant to MHV-A59 infection than SJL mice as measured by virus replication in target organs, including liver and brain. No infectious virus or viral RNA was detected in the organs of cB61ba mice, while viral RNA and infectious virus were detected in target organs of SJL mice. Furthermore, SJL mice produced antiviral antibodies after MHV-A59 inoculation with 10(5) PFU, but cB61ba mice did not. Thus, cB61ba mice are apparently completely resistant to MHV-A59 infection, while SJL mice permit low levels of MHV-A59 virus replication during self-limited, asymptomatic infection. When expressed on cultured BHK cells, the mCEACAM1b and mCEACAM1ba proteins had similar levels of MHV-A59 receptor activity. These results strongly support the hypothesis that although alleles of mCEACAM1 are the principal determinants of mouse susceptibility to MHV-A59, other as-yet-unidentified murine genes may also play a role in susceptibility to MHV.