In vitro, T cell-dependent cytotoxicity is mediated by two distinct mechanisms, one being perforin-, the other Fas-dependent. The contribution of both of these mechanisms to clearance of viral infections was investigated in mice for the non-cytopathic lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) and the cytopathic vaccinia, vesicular stomatitis (VSV) and Semliki forest (SFV) viruses. Clearance of an acute LCMV infection was mediated by the perforin-dependent mechanism without measurable involvement of the Fas-dependent pathway. For the resolution of vaccinia virus infection and for resistance against VSV and SFV, however, neither of the two pathways was required. These data suggest that perforin-dependent cytotoxicity mediated by T cells is crucial for protection against non-cytopathic viruses, whereas infections with cytopathic viruses are controlled by nonlytic T cell-dependent soluble mediators such as cytokines (IFN-gamma against vaccinia virus) and neutralizing antibodies (against VSV and SFV).