This study demonstrates organ specific selection of viral variants during chronic lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) infection in its natural host. Isolates with different biological properties were present in the central nervous system (CNS) and lymphoid tissues of carrier mice infected at birth with the wt Armstrong strain of LCMV. Viral isolates from the CNS were similar to the wt Armstrong strain and induced potent virus-specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) responses in adult mice and the infection was cleared within 2 wk. In contrast, LCMV isolates derived from the lymphoid tissues caused a chronic infection in adult mice associated with suppressed CTL responses. Revertants with wt Armstrong phenotype were present in the CNS of mice infected with a spleen isolate showing unequivocally the importance of host tissues in the selection of viral variants. These results provide a possible mechanism by which viral variants emerge in nature and suggest that tissue- and cell-specific selection is an important aspect of virus evolution.

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