The development and widespread use of vaccines against infectious agents have been a great triumph of medical science. One reason for the success of currently available vaccines is that they are capable of inducing long-lived antibody responses, which are the principal agents of immune protection against most viruses and bacteria. Despite these successes, vaccination against intracellular organisms that require cell-mediated immunity, such as the agents of tuberculosis, malaria, leishmaniasis, and human immunodeficiency virus infection, are either not available or not uniformly effective. Owing to the substantial morbidity and mortality associated with these diseases worldwide, an understanding of the mechanisms involved in generating long-lived cellular immune responses has tremendous practical importance. For these reasons, a new form of vaccination, using DNA that contains the gene for the antigen of interest, is under intensive investigation, because it can engender both humoral and cellular immune responses. This review focuses on the mechanisms by which DNA vaccines elicit immune responses. In addition, a list of potential applications in a variety of preclinical models is provided.