The first nested reverse transcription (RT)-PCR based on the nucleoprotein gene (n RT-PCR-N) of the bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) has been developed and optimized for the detection of BRSV in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid cells of calves. This test is characterized by a low threshold of detection (0.17 PFU/ml), which is 506 times lower than that obtained by an enzyme immunosorbent assay (EIA) test (RSV TESTPACK ABBOTT). During an experimental infection of 17 immunocompetent calves less than 3 months old, BRSV RNA could be detected up to 13 days after the onset of symptoms whereas isolation in cell culture was possible only up to 5 days. Compiling results obtained by conventional techniques (serology, antigen detection, and culture isolation) for 132 field samples collected from calves with acute respiratory signs revealed that n RT-PCR-N showed the highest diagnostic sensitivity and very good specificity. This n RT-PCR-N with its long period of detection during BRSV infection thus provides a valuable tool for diagnostic and epidemiological purposes.