Pseudorabies virus (PRV) is a neurotropic swine alpha herpesvirus that characteristically invades the nervous system and replicates within synaptically-linked populations of neurons. The invasive characteristics and ability of this family of viruses to replicate in neurons of the central nervous system (CNS) have been exploited to map functionally related populations of neurons in a variety of systems. In this report, we examined the effects of strain and concentration on the ability of PRV to infect retinal ganglion cells and pass transneuronally through central visual circuits. We find that the ability of virulent (PRV-Becker) and attenuated (PRV-Bartha) strains of PRV to produce a productive infection of visual circuitry is directly dependent upon the infectious of the injected virus. Injections of at least 10(5) total plaque forming units produce 100% infectivity, whereas lower infectious doses substantially reduce the percentage of animals exhibiting productive infection via this route of inoculation. Furthermore, the virulent strain of PRV consistently infects a higher percentage of animals across a broader range of titers than attenuated virus. These data demonstrate that viral titer and strain are important variables that should be considered in the design of studies and interpretation of data derived from investigations employing this pathogen for circuit analysis.