BACKGROUND: Experimental inoculation is an important tool for common cold and asthma research. Producing rhinovirus (RV) inocula from nasal secretions has required prolonged observation of the virus donor to exclude extraneous pathogens. We produced a RV-A16 inoculum using reverse genetics and determined the dose necessary to cause moderate colds in seronegative volunteers. METHODS: The consensus sequence of RV-A16 from a previous inoculum was cloned, and inoculum virus was produced using reverse genetics techniques. After safety testing, volunteers were inoculated with either RV-A16 (n = 26) or placebo (n = 10), Jackson cold scores were recorded, and nasal secretions were tested for shedding of RV-A16 ribonucleic acid. RESULTS: The reverse genetics process produced infectious virus that was neutralized by specific antisera and had a mutation rate similar to conventional virus growth techniques. The 1000 median tissue culture infectious dose (TCID50) dose produced moderate colds in most individuals with effects similar to that of a previously tested conventional RV-A16 inoculum. CONCLUSIONS: Reverse genetics techniques produced a RV-A16 inoculum that can cause clinical colds in seronegative volunteers, and they also serve as a stable source of virus for laboratory use. The recombinant production procedures eliminate the need to derive seed virus from nasal secretions, thus precluding introduction of extraneous pathogens through this route.