Pathogenic parental rabies virus strain CVS (challenge virus standard) and its apathogenic variant RV194-2 were shown to differ in their ability to induce interferon (IFN) and immune response of the host. After intracerebral inoculation. IFN and antibody production was higher in the RV194-2 virus-infected mice than in the CVS infection. The enhancement of 2-5A synthetase activity, an IFN-mediated enzyme marker, showed biochemical evidence that IFN is active in both apathogenic and pathogenic infections. On the other hand, spontaneous proliferation in vitro of thymocytes and splenocytes from CVS virus-infected mice was strongly inhibited in contrast to the RV194-2 infection. In the CVS infection, the thymocyte proliferation However, in the RV194-2 infection, the thymocyte proliferation was higher than of the splenocytes. These results suggest a better performance of T-cell response to the RV194-2 infection. This fact can be critical for an enhancement of antibody production in the apathogenic infection and subsequent virus clearance from the brain of RV194-2 virus-infected mice. (author) 1 fig., 3 tabs., 32 refs.