The brain's intrinsic immune system consists of glial cells that produce cytokines and chemokines in response to stimulation with cytomegalovirus (CMV). The present experiments were undertaken to determine whether this intrinsic glial cell response alone is sufficient to control CMV infection of the central nervous system (CNS) or whether effector cells from the somatic immune system are also required. Following stereotactic, intracerebroventricular (icv), injection of murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV) into immunocompetent (C.B-17) mice, viral spread in the brain was limited to the cells of the ventricular walls and the infection was resolved by 10 days post infection (p.i.). In contrast, icv infection of immunodeficient (C.B-17 SCID/bg) mice resulted in viral spread from the ventricles throughout the brain parenchyma and these mice succumbed to lethal disease. Adoptive transfer of total splenocytes from major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-matched, MCMV-primed animals restricted intracerebral viral infection to the periventricular cells and reduced levels of reporter gene expression from the viral genome. Peripheral immune cell transfer also protected immunodeficient animals from lethal disease. Depletion of Thy 1.2+ cells from MCMV-primed splenocytes abolished the protective effect of adoptive transfer. Viral expression was found to be fourfold greater in the brains of animals given Thy 1.2-depleted splenocytes than from those receiving total undepleted cells. As MCMV infection proceeded in the brains of immunodeficient mice, levels of the T-cell chemoattractants CXCL10 and CCL2 remained elevated, whereas CXCL10 levels waned in the brains of animals receiving transferred splenocytes. Taken together, these results demonstrate the ability of T lymphocytes to restrict intracerebral viral spread and indicate that intrinsic glial cell responses alone are insufficient to control MCMV brain infection.