Seven-day-old mice were infected orally with murine rotavirus (EDIM) and regions of the gut examined at 24 h intervals up to 7 days by electron microscopy. Structural changes were correlated with data on viral antigen production, thymidine kinase activity, and clinical signs of diarrhea. No pathological changes were detected in the colon. Infection and structural damage were confined to the small intestine, with middle regions showing the most pronounced changes. Constriction of villus bases, edema of the lamina propria, and vacuolation of enterocytes occurred at 24 h postinfection (PI), i.e., before evidence of major virus replication. Transient villus atrophy occurred at 48 h PI. Recovery of villus length was evident by 72 h PI accompanied by evidence of marked enterocyte replication at villus bases. Many enterocytes were damaged with little evidence for the presence of virus particles. By 96 h PI, villi had almost recovered from infection although some enterocytes were still damaged; no virus particles were detected in these cells. A second phase of villus damage and edema of the lamina propria occurred at 120 h PI; the pathology resembled that at 24-48 h PI. By 144 to 168 h PI, recovery of the mucosa from infection was virtually complete. We suggest that many of the pathological features following rotavirus infection result from rotavirus-induced ischemia of villi and that diarrhea results from malabsorption of fluid by damaged villi and hypersecretion of ions released from increased numbers of dividing cells at villus-crypt borders.