The effect of chitosan on the development of infection caused by Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) in leaves of Nicotiana tabacum L. cv. Samsun has been studied. It was shown that the infectivity and viral coat protein content in leaves inoculated with a mixture of TMV (2 μg/mL) and chitosan (1 mg/mL) were lower in the early period of infection (3 days after inoculation), by 63% and 66% respectively, than in leaves inoculated with TMV only. Treatment of leaves with chitosan 24 h before inoculation with TMV also caused the antiviral effects, but these were less apparent than when the virus and polysaccharide were applied simultaneously. The inhibitory effects of the agent decreased as the infection progressed. Inoculation of leaves with TMV together with chitosan considerably enhanced the activity of hydrolases (proteases, RNases) in the leaves, in comparison with leaves inoculated with TMV alone. Electron microscope assays of phosphotungstic acid (PTA)-stained suspensions from infected tobacco leaves showed that, in addition to the normal TMV particles (18 nm in diameter, 300 nm long), these suspensions contained abnormal (swollen, "thin" and "short") virions. The highest number of abnormal virions was found in suspensions from leaves inoculated with a mixture of TMV and chitosan. Immuno-electron microscopy showed that "thin" virus particles, in contrast to the particles of normal diameter, lost the ability to bind to specific antiserum. It seems that the chitosan-induced activation of hydrolases stimulates the intracellular degradation of TMV particles and hence hydrolase activation may be considered to be one of the polysaccharide-mediated cellular defense mechanisms that limit virus accumulation in cells.