Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection is one of the suggested risk factors for chronic allograft rejection. Clinical and experimental studies have shown that CMV is somehow implicated in rejection mechanisms and in the generation of graft arteriosclerosis, characteristic of chronic rejection. In liver transplantation, there is also evidence of an association between CMV and vanishing bile duct-syndrome (VBDS), which is characteristic of chronic liver allograft rejection. In this study, the role of posttransplant CMV infection and of acute rejection in the patients with irreversible, histologically confirmed chronic liver rejection with VBDS and vasculopathy was analyzed. Ten of 200 (5%) consecutive liver transplants were lost due to chronic rejection, from between 5 and 28 months from transplantation. In these 10 patients, acute rejections were frequent, and nine of ten patients had at least one episode of rejection early after transplantation. All patients (10 of 10) had a history of CMV infection usually following acute rejection. To investigate the role of CMV in chronic rejection, nine available removed grafts were examined for the presence of the CMV genome by DNA-hybridization in situ using a biotinylated CMV-DNA probe. Persistent CMV-DNA was found in all of those available grafts with chronic rejection. CMV-DNA was strongly expressed in the remaining bile ducts and moderately expressed in the endothelial cells of the vascular structures, the CMV positivity of hepatocytes varied from graft to graft. Thus, persistent CMV genome was found in those structures that are the major targets of the chronic rejection process in the liver. These findings support the previous suggestion of an association between CMV and chronic allograft rejection.