The Inflammatory Bowel Disease Study Group at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine has tested the hypothesis that the primary pathological abnormality in Crohn's disease is in the mesenteric blood supply. Early morphological studies involved arterial perfusion-fixation and either resin casting and scanning electron microscopy or vascular immunostaining of resected intestine affected by Crohn's disease. Granulomatous and lymphocytic damage to intramural blood vessels, even in macroscopically normal areas, was observed. We put forward possible mechanisms by which a chronic ischemic process might account for many of the idiosyncracies of Crohn's disease. It was proposed that persistent viral infection of the mesenteric microvascular endothelium might underly this vasculitic process; based on certain behavioral characteristics of measles virus, including its tropism for the submucosal endothelium of the intestine, this agent was investigated further. This report reviews the preliminary evidence from both epidemiological and basic scientific data for persistent measles virus in the intestine of patients with Crohn's disease. Possible mechanisms for virus persistence and subsequent reactivation are discussed. In conclusion, we believe that Crohn's disease may be a chronic granulomatous vasculitis in reaction to a persistent infection with measles virus within the vascular endothelium. This granulomatous inflammation, perhaps aggravated by either a hypercoagulable state or mechanical stress, results in the clinical features of Crohn's disease.