In this study, the protection afforded against aerosolised Yersinia pestis by injection of a single dose of an alhydrogel-adsorbed sub-unit vaccine has been compared with that given by an existing killed whole cell vaccine licensed for human use. The sub-unit vaccine, prepared by admixing F1 antigen derived from a Y. pestis cell culture supernatant with recombinant V antigen derived from an E. coli cell lysate, fully protected an outbred strain of mouse against exposure to 10(6) CFU of virulent plague organisms (10(4) mouse lethal doses, MLD). In contrast, the whole cell vaccine provided only 16% protection against the same level of challenge. Furthermore, sub-unit vaccinees were able to clear the bacteria from their lungs post-challenge whereas bacteria were cultured from the lungs of a surviving KWC vaccinee post-challenge. In killed whole cell vaccinees, physiologically significant levels of IgG to F1 only were detectable and the levels of F1-specific IgG in serum and in broncho-alveolar washings were significantly lower (p<0.05) compared with sub-unit vaccinees. In sub-unit vaccinees, an IgG titre to the F1 and V antigens was detected in serum where it was significantly higher (p<0.05) compared with broncho-alveolar washings suggesting that, at the time of challenge, protection is attributable mainly to the combined circulating IgG titre to the F1 and V sub-units. The enhanced protective efficacy of this sub-unit vaccine administered as a single dose compared with an existing vaccine has been demonstrated in an outbred animal model of pneumonic plague.