Evidence is presented supporting the hypothesis that reovirus intermediate subviral particles (ISVP), which show increased infectivity relative to intact virions, can gain entry into host L cells by two alternative pathways. One pathway is by the process of viropexis, involving phagocytic vacuoles. A second entry pathway is via direct penetration of the plasma membrane of the cell, without involvement of a phagocytic vacuole. Using electron microscopy, a kinetic analysis of the uptake process was carried out. Results indicate that at 37 degrees C ISVP gain entry into host cells primarily by direct entry, although viropexis also occurs, while intact virions gain entry by viropexis almost exclusively. A second line of experimental evidence consistent with the idea that ISVP can 'melt' their way through the plasma membrane is provided by studies on the release of pre-loaded radioactive 51Cr from host cells following infection. 51Cr release data demonstrate that infection with ISVP leads to an immediate increased leakiness of the cell plasma membrane, whereas no such increase takes place following infection with an equivalent number of intact virions. This demonstrates that ISVP can interact with the plasma membrane of the cell in a manner which is qualitatively different from the interaction between intact virions and the plasma membrane. The ability of ISVP to directly penetrate the plasma membrane of the host cell, which intact virions apparently cannot do, could explain the decreased duration of the eclipse phase, as well as the increased infectivity of ISVP, relative to that observed for infection with intact virions.