Measles virus (MV) replication in brain tissue of Lewis rats with acute (AE) and subacute (SAME) encephalitis was characterized by biochemical techniques. Messenger RNAs specific for measles virus nucleocapsid (N), phospho (P)-, matrix (M), fusion (F), and haemagglutinin (H) protein were detected in all brain extracts examined. The quantity of the individual MV mRNA species was quite different in comparison to lytically infected Vero cells. A steep gradient of MV transcripts was found in brain tissue which is most likely due to strongly attenuated transcription of mRNAs along the viral genome, representing particularly low transcription of the glycoprotein genes. In addition, in vitro translation assays only revealed synthesis of N and P protein in consistent fashion. The mRNAs for the glycoproteins did not direct the synthesis of detectable viral proteins whereas the M mRNA revealed some activity in animals with AE. The data indicate a strong restriction of the MV envelope gene expression in infected brain tissue, which is independent of the incubation time and type of the central nervous system (CNS) disease. This phenomenon which is similar to the findings observed in measles inclusion body encephalitis and subacute sclerosing panencephalitis suggest that host factors may initially be responsible for the initiation of transcriptional and translational alterations.