Oral administration of type I interferons (IFNs; murine IFN-alpha and IFN-beta) reduces early replication of murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV) in both the spleen and liver of MCMV-infected BALB/c mice. Examination of a range of doses of IFN (1 to 1000 IU) showed that 10 IU administered daily for 1 week prior to virus infection was optimal for inhibition of MCMV replication, Furthermore, low-dose orally administered IFN (10 IU/day) n as effective in mice challenged with lethal and sublethal virus inocula. The antiviral efficacy of low-dose orally administered IFN was not restricted by either the route of virus inoculation or the mouse genotype. Analysis by immunohistochemistry of IFN-alpha receptor-bearing cells of the gastrointestinal tract revealed predominant staining of perivascular smooth muscle and the lamina propria of the anterior tongue, small intestine and rectum, These tissues, dense in IFN-alpha receptor-bearing cells, are likely to be the sites of interaction of the orally administered IFNs with the mucosal immune system. In conclusion, we propose that low-dose oral use of type I IFN therapy may have broad applications in the treatment of CMV infections.