Mice previously infected with an aerosol of A/Rec 31 influenza virus were strongly protected against an aerosol challenge with A/Vic influenza as judged by lung virus titers recovered 2 days after the challenge infection. Such complete homotypic immunity was not achieved by priming with live Rec 31 virus injected i.v. or UV-inactivated Rec 31 virus administered s.c. together with Al(OH)3 and saponin. The reason for the superior protective effect of the natural infection was investigated. The protection induced by respiratory infection with Rec 31 virus was specific for influenza A viruses. It was not correlated with specific serum hemagglutination inhibition antibody titer or cross-reactive cytotoxic T (Tc) cell reactivity. Moreover, the transfer of splenic and lymphoid T cell populations with strong secondary Tc activity did not significantly reduce lung virus titers in recipient mice 3 days after infection. The protection however occurred in parallel with the presence of cross-reactive IgA antibody in the lung washings. It thus appears that local secretory IgA plays a causal role in the prevention of cross-infection by influenza A virus. Serum antibody and Tc cells, on the other hand, may be crucial for recovery from such infection. All mice primed with live Rec 31 virus, administered i.v. or by aerosol and expressing equally high levels of Tc reactivity, survived a lethal challenge with A/PR8 virus. The same challenge, however, killed half of the mice immunized s.c. with inactivated Rec 31 virus which induced only a low level of Tc reactivity.