Growth of Listeria monocytogenes is mainly controlled by macrophages, which are activated by specific T cells. A potential role of CD8+ T cells by direct lysis of infected cells was investigated in perforin-deficient mice generated by homologous recombination. The absence of perforin-mediated cytotoxicity resulted in delayed clearance of Listeria from the spleen but not the liver after primary infection, overall susceptibility to Listeria however was not increased. Protection against a secondary infection was drastically impaired in perforin-deficient mice. Adoptive transfer of immune spleen cells to recipients revealed that anti-Listeria protection by CD8+ T cells from perforin-deficient versus normal mice was about 10-fold reduced in livers and about 100-fold reduced in the spleen of recipients. CD4+ T cells from immune control and perforin-deficient mice conferred comparable protection. These results indicate that the protective effect of CD8+ T cells against an intracellular bacterium mainly evident in secondary infection is mediated by a perforin-dependent pathway, presumably cytotoxicity, and less by other direct or indirect effector mechanisms.