The histopathology of adenovirus pneumonia in cotton rats (Sigmodon hispidus) due to bovine adenovirus type 3-luciferase recombinant virus (BAd3-Luc), which has a 0.7 kb deletion from the early region 3 (E3) replaced with the firefly luciferase gene, was compared with that produced by the parental wild-type (wt) bovine adenovirus type 3 (BAd3). After intranasal inoculation of cotton rats with 3 x 10(7) p.f.u. of BAd3-Luc, the infectious virus titres in the lungs at various times post-infection were similar to those of animals infected with the parental virus. Quantitative analysis of histopathological changes and immunohistochemical staining showed that the character and severity of the lesions were indistinguishable in the two infections. Luciferase activity was detected in the lungs of BAd3-Luc-inoculated animals until 4 days post-infection (p.i.). Antibodies to both BAd3 and luciferase were detected in sera collected from BAd3-Luc-infected animals until at least 6 weeks p.i. These results show that Bad3-Luc produces pulmonary lesions in cotton rats similar to those of wt BAd3 and suggest that BAd3-based vectors may be suitable for the development of live recombinant virus vaccines.