In C58 and AKR mice, endogenous N-tropic, ecotropic murine leukemia virus (MuLV) proviruses become activated in rare cells during embryogenesis. Resultant replication-competent progeny viruses then actively infect a large number of cells throughout the fetus, including cells in the developing central nervous system. By in situ hybridization analyses, we have assessed the presence of ecotropic MuLV RNA in the brains of C58 mice as a function of age. Only a few ecotropic MuLV-positive cells were observed in weanling mice, but the number of positive cells in the brain increased progressively with increasing age of the mice. Throughout the lives of the mice, the ecotropic MuLV RNA-positive cells were primarily located in well-defined white-matter tracts of the brain (commissura anterior, corpus callosum, fimbria hippocampi, optical tract, and striatum) and of the spinal cord. Cells of the subventricular zone also expressed ecotropic MuLV RNA, and in older mice a small number of positive cells were present in the grey matter. Infection of endogenous ecotropic MuLV provirus-less CE/J mice in utero with ecotropic MuLV clone AKR-623 resulted in the extensive infection of brain cells. The regional distribution of ecotropic MuLV RNA-containing cells was the same as observed in the brains of C58 mice, in which cells became infected by endogenously activated virus, but the number of positive cells was higher.