Endothelial involvement has been implicated in cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection, a source of major complications in immunosuppressed individuals (e.g., those with acquired immune deficiency syndrome [AIDS] and organ transplants). Traditionally, CMV has been grown in fibroblasts; however, propagation in these cells may alter characteristics of the virus. In developing an in vitro model system of CMV/endothelial cell interaction, we have addressed this issue by propagating a clinical isolate, CMV VHL 1, in human umbilical vein endothelial (HUVE) cells by serial cocultivation of heavily infected cultures with fresh HUVE monolayers and have compared its infectious properties with those of the fibroblast-raised strain, CMV AD169. In situ hybridization using a biotinylated DNA probe, as well as immunofluorescent staining for CMV-specific antigen, has confirmed infection of HUVE cells inoculated with either strain of the virus. Infection of HUVE by VHL was accompanied by dramatic cytopathology not observed in AD169-infected cells. Plaque assay of culture supernatants revealed greater virus production in VHL-infected HUVE as compared with equivalently inoculated fibroblasts. In contrast, AD169 production in inoculated fibroblasts exceeded that in HUVE. These studies demonstrate the suitability of cultured endothelial cells as a substrate for CMV propagation and suggest that a strain of virus thus propagated may offer an accurate model of CMV/endothelial cell interaction in human disease.