Infection of the central nervous system (CNS) by the JHM strain of mouse hepatitis virus (JHMV) is a rodent model of the human demyelinating disease multiple sclerosis. The inability of effective host immune responses to eliminate virus from the CNS results in a chronic infection associated with ongoing recurrent demyelination. JHMV infects a variety of CNS cell types during the acute phase of infection including ependymal cells, astrocytes, microglia, oligodendroglia, and rarely in neurons. Replication within the majority of CNS cell types is controlled by perforin-dependent virus-specific CTL. However, inhibition of viral replication in oligodendroglia occurs via a perforin-independent mechanism(s). The potential role for IFN-gamma as mediator controlling JHMV replication in oligodendroglia was examined in mice deficient in IFN-gamma secretion (IFN-gamma0/0 mice). IFN-gamma0/0 mice exhibited increased clinical symptoms and mortality associated with persistent virus, demonstrating an inability to control replication. Neither antiviral Ab nor CTL responses were diminished in the absence of IFN-gamma, although increased IgG1 was detected in IFN-gamma0/0 mice. Increased virus Ag in the absence of IFN-gamma localized almost exclusively to oligodendroglia and was associated with increased CD8+ T cells localized within white matter. These data suggest that although perforin-dependent CTL control virus replication within astrocytes and microglia, which constitute the majority of infected CNS cells, IFN-gamma is critical for control of viral replication in oligodendroglia. Therefore, different mechanisms are used by the host defenses to control virus replication within the CNS, dependent upon the phenotype of the targets of virus replication.