In neonatal mice the A7(74) and L10 strains of Semliki Forest virus (SFV) are virulent. In 3- to 4-week-old mice the L10 strain is virulent, the A7(74) strain is avirulent. Following intraperitoneal inoculation of 3- to 4-week-old mice both strains produce a transient plasma viremia. This is cleared by IgM antibodies. IgG antibodies of all subclasses are produced. The distribution of viral RNA in the brain as determined by autoradiographic analysis of in situ hybridizations shows that in all cases virus is first apparent as small foci of infected cells around cerebral capillaries. In both neonatal and 3- to 4-week-old mice infected with L10 or neonatal mice infected with A7(74), infection spreads rapidly from the original foci to infect large areas throughout the brain. Both neurons and glial cells are infected resulting in pycnosis and death of the animals. In the brains of 3- to 4-week-old mice infected with A7(74) virus there is little spread from the original perivascular foci. Again neurons and oligodendrocytes are infected but cellular destruction is minimal. The same pattern of A7(74) infection is observed in 3- to 4-week-old athymic nu/nu mice and mice with severe combined immunodeficiency, indicating that failure to spread is not related to specific immune responses. Furthermore, in nu/nu and SCID mice the small restricted foci of A7(74) infection persist. Comparison of the replication of these two viruses by electronmicroscopy shows that although A7(74) virus replicates completely in the neurons of neonatal mice, the virus is unable to bud from the neurons of 3- to 4-week-old mice and aggregates of viral RNA and capsid accumulate. We conclude that there is an age-related restriction of A7(74) replication in mouse neurons and that this restriction is not associated with the maturity of virus-specific immune responses but probably reflects age-related changes in neurons.