We investigated the time course of porcine cellular and humoral immune responses against pseudorabies virus (PRV) after pigs were inoculated with PRV gE(-) mutant strain M141 and challenged with wild-type virus NIA-3. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) were isolated from blood samples; half were used directly and half were restimulated with PRV in vitro before use in a cytolytic assay. We determined time course and extent of PRV-specific lymphoproliferative and cytolytic response. In addition, serum samples were examined for neutralizing antibodies. After inoculation, the frequency of various lymphocyte subsets in peripheral blood was determined by FACScan. One week after inoculation, T-lymphocytes proliferated abundantly and a B-lymphocyte response was observed. When PBMC were used directly without restimulation, only 15% of the PRV-infected target cells were lysed, and about 15-20% of uninfected target cells were lysed. In contrast, when PBMC were restimulated with PRV, up to 50% of the PRV-infected target cells were lysed while only 30% of the uninfected target cells were lysed. The frequency of various T-lymphocyte subsets in the circulation did not change significantly after inoculation, which indicates that the number of PRV-specific lymphocytes in circulation was very small. After challenge, the T-lymphocyte response was enhanced, but the B-lymphocyte response was not. When PBMC were used directly, only 20% of the PRV-infected and uninfected target cells were lysed after challenge. In contrast, when PBMC were restimulated with PRV, they again lysed more PRV-infected target cells than uninfected target cells. Cytolytic cells were detected for a longer period after challenge than after inoculation. Since it was only possible to clearly detect cytolysis after lymphocytes were restimulated with PRV, it may be that they do not preferentially localize in blood or that they are too few in blood to be detected without further antigenic restimulation in vitro. These lymphocytes may instead localize in other tissues, such as mucosal tissues, tonsils and draining lymph nodes. Whether such a reservoir of PRV-specific cytolytic cells is important in clearing the virus is still unknown. In this study we demonstrated PRV-specific lymphocytes in circulation after they were restimulated in vitro with PRV.