Mice infected with an immunosuppressive murine leukemia virus (MuLV) mixture, LP-BM5, displayed profound and selective deficits in spatial learning in a modified Morris water maze. These deficits appeared before the appearance of gross neurological impairment or histopathological changes in the central nervous system. Thus, LP-BM5-infected mice displayed deficits in several aspects of trained performance compared to controls. Furthermore, a failure to exhibit any evidence of task acquisition in this maze was observed almost twice as frequently (P less than 0.0005) in infected mice as in uninfected controls. Moreover, in the absence of gross visual, motoric, or motivational impairment, LP-BM5 MuLV-infected animals exhibited neither the target directed search pattern nor the spatial preference characteristic of controls. The spatial learning and memory deficit described here is the first report of cognitive impairment accompanying viral-induced immunosuppression in a nonprimate species.