Previous studies have shown that mouse adenovirus type-1 (MAV-1) caused a fatal hemorrhagic encephalitis in certain strains of mice. C57BI/6 mice exhibited 100% mortality when given as little 10(3) plaque-forming units (PFU) of MAV, in contrast to BALB/c mice which were resistant to as many as 10(6) PFU. Susceptible animals died with a flaccid paralysis on the 3rd or 4th day after inoculation. The brains and spinal cords of these animals displayed numerous petechial hemorrhages that were found in virtually all areas of the brain, but were more numerous in white matter. In this paper, immunohistochemistry and electron microscopy were used to identify the viral target of replication within the CNS of susceptible mice. These studies showed that the CNS vascular endothelial cell was the primary site of viral replication within the CNS of mice infected with MAV-1. Characterization of cytokine mRNA levels and disease course in immunodeficient mice revealed that the host immune response played little, if any, role in the pathogenesis of MAV-1 disease in susceptible mice and was not responsible for the resistance of BALB/c mice. These results support the conclusion that disease course and outcome in susceptible and resistant strains of mice were determined primarily by the ability of the virus to replicate within the CNS vascular endothelium.