Many studies suggest that host lymphocytes are damaging, rather than protective, in virally induced myocarditis. We have investigated the role of lymphocyte-based immunity in murine myocarditis by using a myocarditic reovirus (reovirus serotype 3 8B), nonmyocarditic reoviruses, adoptive transfer experiments, and mice with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID mice). Prior to infection, passive transfer of monoclonal antibodies specific for 8B capsid proteins protected neonatal mice against 8B-induced myocarditis, indicating that humoral immunity can protect against myocarditis. Some monoclonal antibodies acted by blocking viral spread to and/or replication in the heart. Passive transfer of reovirus-immune, but not naive, spleen cells prior to infection protected neonatal mice from 8B-induced myocarditis. Depletion of either CD4 or CD8 T cells resulted in increased viral titer in the heart but did not abrogate immune cell-mediated protection against myocardial injury. This shows that both CD4 and CD8 T cells can act independently to protect myocardial tissue from reovirus infection. In addition, reovirus 8B caused extensive myocarditis in SCID mice. This confirms a prior report (B. Sherry, F. J. Schoen, E. Wenske, and B. N. Fields, J. Virol. 63:4840-4849, 1989) that T cells are not required for reovirus-induced myocarditis and demonstrates for the first time that B cells are not required for reovirus-induced myocarditis. We used SCID mice and a panel of reoviruses to assess (i) the relationship between growth in the heart and myocardial damage and (ii) the possibility that nonmyocarditic reoviruses exhibit a myocarditic phenotype in the absence of functional lymphocytes. Growth in the heart was not the sole determinant of myocarditic potential in SCID mice. Although 8B induced myocarditis in SCID mice, no or minimal myocarditis was found in SCID mice infected with four reovirus strains previously shown (B. Sherry and B. N. Fields, J. Virol. 63:4850-4856, 1989) to be nonmyocarditic or poorly myocarditic in normal neonatal mice. We conclude that (i) humoral immunity and cellular immunity are protective against, and not required for, reovirus-induced myocarditis and (ii) the potential to induce cardiac damage is a property of the virus independent of lymphocyte-based immunity.