Molecular mechanisms regulating virus xenotropism and cross-species transmission are poorly understood. Host range mutants (MHV-H2) of mouse hepatitis virus (MHV) strains were isolated from mixed cultures containing progressively increasing concentrations of nonpermissive Syrian baby hamster kidney (BHK) cells and decreasing concentrations of permissive murine astrocytoma (DBT) cells. MHV-H2 was polytrophic, replicating efficiently in normally nonpermissive BHK cells, Syrian and Chinese hamster (DDT-1 and CHO) cells, human adenocarcinoma (HRT), primate kidney (VERO) and in murine 17Cl-1 cell lines. Little if any virus replication was detected in feline kidney (CRFK), and porcine testicular (ST) cell lines. To study the effects of xenotrophic spread on virus receptor-interactions in the original host, murine DBT cells were pretreated with a monoclonal antibody (MAb) CC1, directed against the MHV receptor, MHVR, a biliary glycoprotein (Bgp1a). Under treatment conditions that completely ablated the replication of the parental MHV strains, CC1 antireceptor antibodies did not block MHV-H2 replication. Following expression of MHVR in normally nonpermissive ST and CRFK cells, infection with the parental MHV strains, but not MHV-H2 was observed. To characterize the molecular basis preventing the interaction between MHV-H2 and MHVR, revertants of MHV-H2 (MHV-H2R6, MHV-H2R11) were isolated following a persistent MHV-H2 infection in DBT cells. These revertant viruses efficiently recognized MHVR, however infection of murine cells was resistant to MAb CC1 blockade. In addition, MHV-H2 and the revertant viruses efficiently recognized other Bgp receptors for docking and entry. These data suggest that interspecies transfer may remodel normal virus-receptor interactions that may result in altered virulence, tropism or pathogenesis in the original host.