Experiments were performed to determine whether visna/maedi virus (VMV), a small ruminant lentivirus (SRLV), could infect sheep via ocular tissues. The EV1 strain of VMV was administered into the conjunctival space of uninfected sheep, and the animals monitored for the presence of provirus DNA and anti-VMV antibodies in blood. The results showed that provirus DNA appeared in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of all animals within a few weeks of receiving either 10(6) TCID50 or 10(3) TCID50 of VMV. Of the animals receiving the higher dose of virus via the conjunctival space, two seroconverted by 7 and 10 weeks post-infection, one seroconverted 8 months post-infection, and one had not seroconverted by 15 months post-infection. With the lower virus dose, the animals infected via the trachea seroconverted by 4 and 14 weeks, respectively. After ocular infection with this dose, one animal showed a transitory seroconversion with low levels of antibody, peaking at 2 weeks post-administration. The remaining three of the animals infected via the eyes did not seroconvert over a period of 13 months. At post-mortem, evidence for the presence of proviral DNA was obtained from ocular tissue, lungs or mediastinal lymph node in both groups of animals. Histological analysis of lung tissue from animals receiving the lower dose of virus showed the presence of early inflammatory lesions. The results thus show for the first time that transmission of VMV can occur via ocular tissues, suggesting that the conjunctival space may be an additional route of natural transmission.