Extracellular subviral particles produced by HeLa cells infected with a recombinant vaccinia virus encoding the prM and E genes of Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) were purified and characterized. These particles contained the JEV prM/M and E proteins embedded in a lipid bilayer, and RNA was not detected in particles using the polymerase chain reaction and primers recognizing a part of the JEV E gene. The particles were uniformly spherical with a 20-nm diameter and had 5-nm projections on their surface. Mice that received a single inoculation of the purified extracellular particles emulsified with Freund's complete adjuvant were fully protected against 4.9 x 10(5) LD50 of JEV. Comparison of the neutralizing and hemagglutination-inhibiting antibody titers and radioimmunoprecipitation data showed that immunization with the particles induced an immune response similar to that following inoculation with the recombinant vaccinia virus.