In the past 12 years (1967-79) a syndrome we identify as chronic wasting disease has been observed in 53 mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus) and one black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) held in captivity in several wildlife facilities in Colorado and more recently in Wyoming. Clinical signs were seen in adult deer and included behavioral alterations, progressive weight loss and death in 2 weeks to 8 months. Gross necropsy findings included emaciation and excess rumen fluid admixed with sand and gravel. Consistent histopathologic change was limited to the central nervous system and characterized by widespread spongiform transformation of the neuropil, single of multiple intracytoplasmic vacuoles in neuronal perikaryons and intense astrocytic hypertrophy and hyperplasia. Presented is a clinical characterization of chronic wasting disease and pathologic evidence supporting the conclusion that the disease is a specific spontaneously occurring form of spongiform encephalopathy.