Gamma interferon-deficient (IFN-gamma-/-) mice with a C57BL/6 background were infected intraperitoneally with mouse hepatitis virus strain JHM (JHMV). In contrast to IFN-gamma-+/- and IFN-gamma+/+ mice, JHMV persisted in IFN-gamma-/- mice and induced death during the subacute phase of the infection. Unexpectedly, infected IFN-gamma-/- mice showed severe peritonitis accompanying the accumulation of a viscous fluid in the abdominal and thoracic cavities in the subacute phase. Destructive changes of hepatocytes were not observed. Administration of recombinant IFN-gamma protracted the survival time of IFN-gamma-/- mice after JHMV infection. These results demonstrate that IFN-gamma plays a critical role in viral clearance in JHMV infection. They also show that a resultant persistent JHMV infection induces another form of disease in IFN-gamma-/- mice, which bears a resemblance to feline infectious peritonitis in cats.