The spread of intramuscularly inoculated poliovirus to the central nervous system (CNS) has been documented in humans, monkeys, and mice transgenic for the human poliovirus receptor. Poliovirus spread is thought to be due to infection of the peripheral nerve and retrograde transport of poliovirus through the axon to the neuron cell body, where final virus uncoating occurs and translation/replication ensues. In previous studies, we have shown that polio-based vectors (replicons) can be used for gene delivery to motor neurons of the CNS. Using a replicon that encodes green fluorescent protein (GFP), we found that following intrathecal inoculation, GFP expression was confined to motorneurons of the spinal cord. To further characterize the gene expression of poliovirus in the periphery and CNS, we have intramuscularly inoculated transgenic mice with poliovirus replicons encoding GFP. Expression of GFP was demonstrated in the muscle, sciatic nerve, dorsal root ganglion, and the ventral horn motorneurons following intramuscular inoculation. There was no evidence of paralysis or behavioral abnormalities in the mice following intramuscular inoculation of the replicon encoding GFP. Injection of replicon RNA alone (naked RNA) into the muscle of transgenic mice or rats, which do not express the poliovirus receptor, also resulted in expression of GFP in the muscle, sciatic nerve, dorsal root ganglion, and ventral horn motorneurons, indicating that transport of the replicon RNA from the periphery to CNS had occurred. GFP expression was found in the muscles and sciatic nerve as early as 6 h after injection of replicons or replicon RNA, even after sciatic nerve section. Analysis at longer times postinjection revealed GFP expression similar to 6 h levels in the cut sciatic nerves and robust expression in the nerves of uncut animals. The infection and expression of GFP in the CNS following intramuscular inoculation of encapsidated replicons encoding GFP occurred in juvenile or adult animals. The expression of GFP in the CNS of juvenile animals was more intense and lasted for up to 5 weeks, in contrast to the duration of expression of approximately 96 h for adult animals. The results of these studies establish that poliovirus replicon RNA is expressed locally within the sciatic nerve and transported from the periphery to the CNS via axonal transport and support the potential of replicons for gene delivery to the CNS. © 2003 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.