The scrapie agent causes a degenerative neurological disorder in sheep and goats after a prolonged incubation period. Hamsters inoculated intracerebrally with 10(7) ID50 units of the scrapie agent develop clinical signs of neurological dysfunction 60-65 days later. The titers of scrapie agent in selected regions of the central nervous system (CNS) of hamsters were determined prior to the onset of clinical illness. At 48 days after inoculation, the cerebrum, cerebellum, brain stem, and spinal cord contained 9.3, 9.1, 9.3, and 8.6 log ID50 units/g of tissue, respectively. Sections from the cerebrum showed minimal vacuolation without any astrogliosis. The spinal cord and cerebellum revealed no lesions. At 71 days after inoculation, when clinical signs of scrapie were prominent, another group of hamsters was evaluated. The mean titers of the agent in the same CNS regions were virtually unchanged, but severe vacuolation and moderate astrogliosis were present in the cerebral cortex. A moderate degree of vacuolation and astrogliosis were observed in the cerebellum, brain stem, and spinal cord. These studies indicate that replication of the scrapie agent in the hamster is uniform throughout the CNS and precedes the development of pathological changes.