A digoxigenin-labelled dsDNA-probe of 287 basepairs length complementary to the nucleoprotein-gene of canine distemper virus (CDV) was generated by the polymerase-chain-reaction. The dsDNA-probe hybridized specifically with base sequences of 8 different CDV strains, whereas no hybridization was observed with a porpoise and a canine parainfluenza virus and only a weak signal was obtained with measles virus. In formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded brain sections of 35 immunohistologically CDV antigen positive dogs with spontaneous distemper encephalitis CDV-RNA could be detected in 25 cases by in situ hybridization. The reason for the lack of RNA detection in some immunohistologically positive dogs may be due to the low stability of DNA-RNA-hybrids. Degradation of RNA by RNAses or diffusion out of autolysed cells can not be excluded.