The functions of bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) nonstructural proteins NS1 and NS2 were studied by generation and analysis of recombinant BRSV carrying single and double gene deletions. Whereas in MDBK cells the lack of either or both NS genes resulted in a 5,000- to 10,000-fold reduction of virus titers, in Vero cells a moderate (10-fold) reduction was observed. Interestingly, cell culture supernatants from infected MDBK cells were able to restrain the growth of NS deletion mutants in Vero cells, suggesting the involvement of NS proteins in escape from cytokine-mediated host cell responses. The responsible factors in MDBK supernatants were identified as type I interferons by neutralization of the inhibitory effect with antibodies blocking the alpha interferon (IFN-alpha) receptor. Treatment of cells with recombinant universal IFN-alpha A/D or IFN-beta revealed severe inhibition of single and double deletion mutants, whereas growth of full-length BRSV was not greatly affected. Surprisingly, all NS deletion mutants were equally repressed, indicating an obligatory cooperation of NS1 and NS2 in antagonizing IFN-mediated antiviral mechanisms. To verify this finding, we generated recombinant rabies virus (rRV) expressing either NS1 or NS2 and determined their IFN sensitivity. In cells coinfected with NS1- and NS2-expressing rRVs, virus replication was resistant to doses of IFN which caused a 1,000-fold reduction of replication in cells infected with wild-type RV or with each of the NS-expressing rRVs alone. Thus, BRSV NS proteins have the potential to cooperatively protect an unrelated virus from IFN-alpha/beta mediated antiviral responses. Interestingly, BRSV NS proteins provided a more pronounced resistance to IFN in the bovine cell line MDBK than in cell lines of other origins, suggesting adaptation to host-specific antiviral responses. The findings described have a major impact on the design of live recombinant BRSV and HRSV vaccines.