Induction of mucosal and cell-mediated immunity is critical for development of an effective vaccine against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). We compared intramuscular and intranasal immunizations with a DNA vaccine encoding env of HIV-1 and evaluated the QS-21 saponin adjuvant for augmentation of the systemic and mucosal immune responses to HIV-1 in a murine model. Vaccination via the two routes elicited comparable systemic immune responses, and QS-21 consistently enhanced antigen-specific serum immunoglobulin G2a (IgG2a) production, delayed-type hypersensitivity reaction, and cytolytic activity of splenocytes. Intestinal secretory IgA production and cytolytic activity of the mesenteric lymph node cells are preferentially elicited by intranasal immunization, and QS-21 augmented these activities as well. This adjuvant augmented production of interleukin-2 (IL-2) and gamma interferon (IFN-gamma) associated with decrease in IL-4 synthesis by antigen-restimulated splenocytes. The serum immunoglobulin subtype profile showed a dominant IgG2a response and less strong IgG1 and IgE production in a QS-21 dose-dependent manner. As expected, enhancements of humoral and cell-mediated immune responses by QS-21 were abrogated by treatment with anti-IL-2 and anti-IFN-gamma monoclonal antibodies. These results suggest that the intranasal route of DNA immunization is more efficient than the intramuscular route in inducing mucosal immunity mediated by sIgA and mesenteric lymphocytes. Furthermore, QS-21 is able to act as a mucosal adjuvant in DNA vaccination and demonstrates its immunomodulatory property via stimulation of the Th1 subset. This study emphasizes the importance of the route of immunization and the use of an adjuvant for effective DNA vaccination against HIV-1.