Interaction between influenza virus WSN strain and MDCK cells was studied by using spin-labeled phospholipids and electron microscopy. Envelope fusion was negligibly small at neutral pH but greatly activated in acidic media in a narrow pH range around 5.0. The half-time was less than 1 min at 37 degrees C at pH 5.0. Virus binding was almost independent of the pH. Endocytosis occurred with a half-time of about 7 min at 37 degrees C at neutral pH, and about 50% of the initially bound virus was internalized after 1 h. Electron micrographs showed binding of virus particles in coated pits in the microvillous surface of plasma membrane and endocytosis into coated vesicles. Chloroquine inhibited virus replication. The inhibition occurred when the drug was added not later than 10 min after inoculation. Chloroquine caused an increase in the lysosomal pH 4.9 to 6.1. The drug did not affect virus binding, endocytosis, or envelope fusion at pH 5.0. Electron micrographs showed many virus particles remaining trapped inside vacuoles even after 30 min at 37 degrees C in the presence of drug, in contrast to only a few particles after 10 min in vacuoles and secondary lysosomes in its absence. Virus replication in an artificial condition, i.e., brief exposure of the inoculum to acidic medium followed by incubation in neutral pH in the presence of chloroquine, was also observed. These results are discussed to provide a strong support for the infection mechanism of influenza virus proposed previously: virus uptake by endocytosis, fusion of the endocytosed vesicles with lysosome, and fusion of the virus envelope with the surrounding vesicle membrane in the secondary lysosome because of the low pH. This allows the viral genome to enter the target cell cytoplasm.