Mutant L cells, designated LR cells, were isolated after "curing" a persistently infected cell line (L/C) with antireovirus serum. The LR cells were shown to be virus-free; no reovirus was detectable by infectious center assays, plaque assays, presence of viral proteins, presence of viral dsRNA and immunofluorescence studies. Persistent infections were readily established n LR cells following infection with either cloned, low passage wild-type reovirus or cloned, low passage reovirus isolated from carrier cultures. Reovirus isolated from carrier cultures, however, grew much better than wild-type reovirus in LR cells and showed complete dominance over wild-type reovirus in coinfection experiments. Infection of LR cells with wild-type reovirus resulted in a low-level persistent infection with inefficient viral replication; these mutant L cells were partially resistant to infection with wild-type reovirus. In contrast, infection of the mutant L cells with virus isolated from the persistently infected cells resulted in a persistent infection accompanied with efficient viral replication. Infection of the original L cells with either wild-type reovirus or reovirus isolated from the persistently infected cells resulted in a lytic infection with no surviving cells. Thus the host cell plays a crucial role in the maintenance of persistent reovirus infection. Our results show that there is a coevolution of both mutant L cells and mutant reovirus during persistent infection.