Paget's disease of bone is characterized by large numbers of osteoclasts that have viral-like nuclear and/or cytoplasmic inclusions. Pagetic osteoclasts express respiratory syncytial viral (RSV) and measles viral (MV) nucleocapsid antigens. The data suggest a possible viral etiology for Paget's disease. However, studies to characterize further the putative viral inclusions in Paget's osteoclasts have been severely hampered by the extreme difficulty in isolating large numbers of osteoclasts from pagetic bone. The recent demonstration that osteoclast-like multinucleated cells (MNC), that had certain characteristics of pagetic osteoclasts formed in marrow cultures from Paget's patients, may permit studies to describe this virus further. Therefore, we have cultured marrow samples from involved and uninvolved bones from Paget's patients and from normal subjects to determine if the MNC formed in these cultures express viral antigens. RSV and/or MV antigens were expressed in the mononuclear cells and/or the MNC formed in 12 of 12 marrow cultures from active lesions of patients with Paget's disease, with 40-50% of the cells expressing viral antigens. In contrast, less than 5% of cells isolated from cultures from normal subjects expressed RSV and/or MV. These results suggest that MNC formed in long-term marrow cultures from patients with Paget's disease frequently express paramyxoviral antigens and are very similar to pagetic osteoclasts. Thus, these marrow cultures may be useful for further characterizing the virus in Paget's disease.