Macrophage DNA synthesis and proliferation occur during the development of cell-mediated immunity and in the early nonspecific reaction to infection. Arenaviruses have a predilection for infection of cells of the reticuloendothelial system, and in this study we have examined the effect of the arenavirus Pichinde on macrophage DNA synthesis. We have found that infection of mouse peritoneal macrophages with Pichinde caused a profound dose-dependent inhibition of the DNA synthesis induced by macrophage growth factor-colony stimulating factor. At a multiplicity of inoculum of 5, there is a 75 to 95% inhibition of DNA synthesis. Viable virus is necessary for inhibition since Pichinde inactivated by heat or cobalt irradiation had no effect. Similarly, virus pretreated with an antiserum to Pichinde was without inhibitory effect. Inhibition was demonstrated by measuring DNA synthesis spectrofluorometrically as well as by [3H]thymidine incorporation. The inhibition of DNA synthesis was not associated with any cytopathology. There was no evidence that the inhibition was due to soluble factors, such as prostaglandins or interferon, released by infected cells. These studies demonstrate, for the first time in vitro, a significant alteration in macrophage function caused by infection with an arenavirus. It is possible that inhibition of macrophage proliferation represents a mechanism by which some microorganisms interfere with host resistance.