A eukaryotic plasmid DNA carrying the AACGTT CpG motif in its ampR gene is a 'danger' signal for mice and caused an increase in the specific antibody titres of fish and mice after immunization with beta-galactosidase (beta-gal). A second pUC-based plasmid, which is inactive in mice and contains the GACGTC CpG motif in its cytomegalovirus (CMV) promoter, had no effect on antibody responses to beta-gal in either fish or mice. A synthetic oligonucleotide, which contains the GACGTT motif, potentiated antibody responses to co-administered beta-gal protein in mice, but not in fish. This is early evidence that lower and higher vertebrates recognize different unmethylated CpG motifs as 'danger' signals. In addition, plasmid DNA expressing mouse granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) had a marked effect on cytotoxic T-cell-like activity in fish by reducing the average number of myofibres that expressed beta-gal, 28 days after co-injection with plasmid DNA expressing beta-gal. Although the mechanism by which the mouse GM-CSF exerted its biological effects in fish is unknown, this finding might have important implications for fish vaccination, particularly when cytotoxic T cells may play a critical role.