Approximately one-half of autopsied acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) patients demonstrate probable human cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection of the central nervous system (CNS). Because CMV in brain tissue or cerebrospinal fluid is difficult to culture, we used antisera, and radioactive probes to diagnose CMV infection in the brain of an autopsied AIDS patient, who died of a fulminant CNS and systemic infection with CMV, suggesting a complete seeding of the ependymal regions possibly followed by a uniform ventriculofugal spread of the virus deep into the parenchyma. Cytomegalic cells were observed in optic nerve, retina, ependymal and subependymal regions of the brain and in the motor (but not sensory) root-CNS junctions. Immunocytochemistry demonstrated viral antigen predominantly in cytomegalic cells, which also stained positively for glial fibrillary acidic protein, S-100, or neuron-specific enolase, but not a common leukocyte antigen. Virions were visible in these cells examined by electron microscopy. No viral replication was observed in pineocytes, pituicytes or the choroid plexus. Morphologically normal cells that were CMV antigen-negative proved to be infected after in situ hybridization with well-defined human CMV DNA fragments. Hence, morphologically normal glia and neurons show restricted replication of CMV, indicating that such cells may be latently infected.