Infidelity of genome applications of RNA viruses leads to the generation of viral quasispecies both in vitro and in vivo. However, the biological significance of such generated variants in vivo is largely unknown and controversial. To study this issue, we continued our evaluation of the tropism of a lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) variant termed clone 13 with its parental virus clonal pool ARM 53b (wild-type parent) for neuronal cells in vivo. Earlier in vivo and in vitro studies noted that the wild-type virus contained a Phe at glycoprotein (GP) residue 260 which correlated with neuron tropism compared with LCMV variants containing a Leu at residue 260 which showed selected tropism for cells of the immune system (C.F. Evans, P. Borrow, J. C. de la Torre, and M. B. A. Oldstone J. Virol. 68:7367-7373, 1994; L. Villarete, T. Somasundaram, and R. Ahmed, J. Virol 68:7490-7496, 1994). Here we (i) evaluated the ability of the viral variants with either a Phe or Leu at GP residue 260 to replicate in vivo in the spleen, liver, or brain, (ii) analyzed the ability of these viruses to compete against each other for cell (neuron)-specific selection following a single viral inoculation of different ratios of both viruses, and (iii) utilized genetic reassortants of both viruses to test their ability to replicate in neurons in vivo. We found that viral variants containing either a Phe or Leu at GP residue 260 were equally capable of replicating in neurons, but when inoculated together, neurons selected for the viral population containing Phe at GP residue 260 over viruses containing a Leu at this position. This was in contrast to selection in the liver and spleen that favored viruses with Leu and not Phe at GP residue 260. Analysis of inoculations with viral reassortants indicated that genes encoded on the short RNA (the GP and nucleoprotein, not the L [polymerase] and Z proteins that are encoded by the large RNA) were associated with neurotropism. Since the nucleoprotein sequences of wild-type Armstrong and clone 13 are identical, it is likely that specific cytoplasmic factors of the neurons play a fundamental role in the selection of virus with Phe at GP residue 260.