Kidneys of newborn (but not adult) mice are normally high permissive for polyomavirus (Py) infection and readily establish persistent infections. We have proposed that ongoing cellular differentiation, which occurs in newborn mice, may be necessary for a high level of in vivo Py replication (R. Rochford, J. P. Moreno, M. L. Peake, and L. P. Villarreal, J. Virol. 66:3287-3297, 1992). This cellular differentiation requirement may also be necessary for the reactivation of a persistent Py kidney infection and could provide an alternative to the accepted view that reactivation results from immunosuppression. To examine this proposal, the ability of adult BALB/c mouse kidneys to support primary acute Py infection or to reactivate previously established persistent Py infections after kidney-specific damage was investigated. Kidney damage was induced by both chemical (glycerol, cisplatin, or methotrexate) and mechanical (through renal artery clamping to produce unilateral renal ischemia) treatments. We also examined the effects of epidermal growth factor (EGF), which enhances the rate of kidney regeneration, on Py replication. Using histopathologic techniques, in situ hybridization for Py DNA, and immunofluorescence for Py VP1 production, we established that both chemical damage and damage through renal artery clamping of adult kidneys promoted high levels of primary Py replication in these normally nonpermissive cells. This damage also promoted the efficient reactivation of Py replication from persistently infected kidneys, in the absence of immunosuppression. EGF treatment significantly increased acute Py replication and also reactivation in damaged kidneys. These results support the view that ongoing cellular division and differentiation may be needed both for high levels of acute Py replication and for reactivation of persistent infections in vivo.