Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is used to detect groups of viruses with the use of group-specific degenerate primers. Inosine residues are sometimes used in the primers to match variable positions within the complementary target sequences, but there is little data on their effects on cDNA synthesis and amplification. A quantitative reverse-transcription PCR was used to measure the rate of amplification with primers containing inosine residues substituted at different positions and in increasing numbers. Experiments were conducted using standard quantities of cloned DNA copied from Potato virus Y genomic RNA and RNA (cRNA) transcribed from the cloned DNA. Single inosine residues had no affect on the amplification rate in the forward primer, except at one position close to the 3' terminus. Conversely, single inosine residues significantly reduced the amplification rate when placed at three out of four positions in the reverse primer. Four or five inosine substitutions could be tolerated with some decline in rates, but amplification often failed from cRNA templates with primers containing larger numbers of inosines. Greater declines in the rate of amplification were observed with RNA templates, suggesting that reverse transcription suffers more than PCR amplification when inosine is included in the reverse primer.