As the effects of climate change have become increasingly visible over the past three decades, coral reefs have suffered from a number of natural and anthropogenic disturbances that have caused a critical decline in coral populations. Among these disturbances are coral diseases, which have appeared with increasing frequency and severity, often in correlation with increases in water temperature. Although the crucial role played by Vibrio species in coral disease has been widely documented, the scientific community does not yet fully understand the infection process of Vibrio or its impact on coral physiology and immunology. Here, we investigated the physiological and transcriptomic responses of a major reef-building coral, Pocillopora damicornis, when exposed to a specific pathogen (Vibrio coralliilyticus) under virulent (increasing water temperature) and non-virulent (constant low temperature) conditions. The infection process was examined by electron microscopy and quantitative reverse-transcription PCR, and coral health was monitored by visual observations and measurements of zooxanthellar density. The results obtained suggest that coral tissue invasion occurs upon increasing water temperature only. Transcriptomic variations were investigated using a suppression-subtractive-hybridization approach, and the expression levels of six candidate immune-related genes were examined during bacterial exposure. These genes correspond to three lectin-like molecules putatively involved in the recognition of pathogens, two metal-binding proteins putatively involved in antibacterial response and one cystein protease inhibitor. The transcription patterns of these selected genes provide new insights into the responses of coral colonies to virulent versus non-virulent bacteria.