An adenovirus 5 vector encoding for mouse interferon alpha, subtype 5 (mDEF201) was evaluated for efficacy against lethal vaccinia virus (WR strain) respiratory infections in mice. mDEF201 was administered as a single intranasal treatment either prophylactically or therapeutically at doses of 10(6) to 10(8) plaque forming units/mouse. When the prophylactic treatment was given at 56 days prior to infection, it protected 90% of animals from death (100% protection for treatments given between 1-49 days pre-infection), with minimal weight loss occurring during infection. Surviving animals re-challenged with virus 22 days after the primary infection were protected from death, indicating that mDEF201 did not compromise the immune response against the initial infection. Post-exposure therapy was given between 6-24 h after vaccinia virus exposure and protection was afforded by a 10(8) dose of mDEF201 given at 24 h, whereas a 10(7) dose was effective up to 12 h. Comparisons were made of the ability of mDEF201, given either 28 or 1 day prior to infection, to inhibit tissue virus titers and lung infection parameters. Lung, liver, and spleen virus titers were inhibited to nearly the same extent by either treatment, as were lung weights and lung hemorrhage scores (indicators of pneumonitis). Lung virus titers were significantly (>100-fold) lower than in the placebo group, and the other infection parameters in mDEF201 treated mice were nearly at baseline. In contrast, viral titers and lung infection parameters were high in the placebo group on day 5 of the infection. These results demonstrate the long-acting prophylactic and treatment capacity of mDEF201 to combat vaccinia virus infections.