Systemic infection of tobacco with tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) strain WU1, is accompanied by massive accumulation of the virus-coded non-structural 126 kDa protein in X-bodies. The development of X-bodies and the time course of the increase in 126 kDa protein in systemically infected leaves were analyzed by immunocytochemistry and ELISA, respectively, using an antiserum raised against a fusion protein of beta-galactosidase and part of the 126 kDa protein. The ELISA assay developed enabled routine detection of viral 126 kDa (as well as 183 kDa) protein in samples of less than 5 mg of systemically infected leaves. Plants were inoculated by differential temperature treatment, whereafter the accumulation of 126 kDa protein was related to viral multiplication, the development of X-bodies and the formation of symptoms. Both 126 kDa protein and coat protein became detectable between 40 and 66 h after transfer of the plants and increased in parallel up to 200 h. Vein clearing was visible at 66 h, followed by mosaic in the newly developed leaves at 112 h. By electron microscopical analysis small X-bodies, weakly labelled with antibodies against the 126 kDa protein, were detected as early as 24 h after transfer. At this stage they were not associated with nuclei. Thereafter, however, X-bodies increased in size and 126 kDa labelling density, and were increasingly often observed attached to nuclei. In emerging leaves that developed mosaic symptoms, X-bodies were associated with nuclei already at an early stage. These observations are consistent with the hypothesis that association of X-bodies with nuclei may lead to symptom induction, when the leaf is invaded by the virus early in its development.