Human isolates of dengue (DEN) type 1 viruses FGA/89 and BR/90 differ in their membrane fusion properties in mosquito cell lines (P. Desprès et al., Virology 196:209-216, 1993). FGA/89 and BR/90 were assayed for their neurovirulence in newborn mice, and neurons were the major target cells for both DEN-1 virus strains within the central nervous system. To study the susceptibility of neurons to DEN virus infection, DEN virus replication was analyzed in the murine neuroblastoma cell line Neuro 2a. Infection of Neuro 2a cells with FGA/89 or BR/90 induced apoptotic DNA degradation after 25 h of infection. Studies of DEN protein synthesis revealed that accumulation of viral proteins leads to apoptotic cell death. The apoptotic process progressed more rapidly following BR/90 infection than it did after FGA/89 infection. The higher cytotoxicity of BR/90 for Neuro 2a cells was linked to an incomplete maturation of the envelope proteins, resulting in abortive virus assembly. Accumulation of viral proteins in the endoplasmic reticulum may induce stress and thereby activate the apoptotic pathway in mouse neuroblastoma cells.