Recent research findings implicate picornaviruses in the etiology of human polymyositis/dermatomyositis and suggest that genetic factors play a role in susceptibility to these diseases. We compared 2 variants of encephalomyocarditis (EMC) virus for their ability to induce polymyositis in adult mice, and evaluated what role the genetic background of the host plays in the degree of myositis induced. While BALB/c mice developed minimal myositis when infected with a diabetogenic variant (EMC-D), the same strain inoculated with a newly isolated myopathic variant (EMC-221A) developed viral dose-dependent elevations in muscle-associated enzymes, bilateral limb muscle weakness, and the histopathologic changes of severe polymyositis. Mice with different genetic backgrounds showed significantly different susceptibilities to EMC-221A. These data suggest that the severity of polymyositis induced by EMC virus is influenced by both the viral and host genomes.