Borna disease virus (BDV) can persistently infect the central nervous system of a broad range of mammalian species. Mice are resistant to infections with primary BDV isolates, but certain laboratory strains can be adapted to replicate in mice. We determined the molecular basis of adaptation by studying mutations acquired by a cDNA-derived BDV strain during one brain passage in rats and three passages in mice. The adapted virus propagated efficiently in mouse brains and induced neurological disease. Its genome contained seven point mutations, three of which caused amino acid changes in the L polymerase (L1116R and N1398D) and in the polymerase cofactor P (R66K). Recombinant BDV carrying these mutations either alone or in combination all showed enhanced multiplication speed in Vero cells, indicating improved intrinsic viral polymerase activity rather than adaptation to a mouse-specific factor. Mutations R66K and L1116R, but not N1398D, conferred replication competence of recombinant BDV in mice if introduced individually. Virus propagation in mouse brains was substantially enhanced if both L mutations were present simultaneously, but infection remained mostly nonsymptomatic. Only if all three amino acid substitutions were combined did BDV replicate vigorously and induce early disease in mice. Interestingly, the virulence-enhancing effect of the R66K mutation in P could be attributed to reduced negative regulation of polymerase activity by the viral X protein. Our data demonstrate that BDV replication competence in mice is mediated by the polymerase complex rather than the viral envelope and suggest that altered regulation of viral gene expression can favor adaptation to new host species.