A parainfluenza virus type 3 (PIV3) subunit vaccine consisting of detergent-solubilized, affinity-purified haemagglutinin-neuraminidase (HN) and fusion (F) surface glycoproteins was tested in cotton rats for immunogenicity, short-term effects on virus-induced immunopathology and protective efficacy. Groups of animals were immunized twice, 4 weeks apart, with graded doses of vaccine administered either alone or with aluminium phosphate (AlPO4). The minimum immunogenic dose of vaccine was 0.1 microgram HN and F when the vaccine was given alone and 0.01 microgram when the vaccine was administered with AlPO4 adjuvant. Antibody responses in animals immunized with 1 microgram HN and F mixed with adjuvant were similar to those in control animals infected with live PIV3 intranasally. Pulmonary and nasal wash PIV3 titres generally were inversely correlated with serum antibody levels. Virus titres were significantly reduced in all groups of animals immunized with greater than or equal to 0.1 microgram HN and F compared with control animals immunized with vehicle only. Four days after virus challenge, there was no evidence of enhanced histopathology in lung sections from animals immunized with the candidate vaccine.