Identification of a single viral T-cell epitope, associated with greater than 95% of the virus-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) activity in BALB/c (H-2d) mice (J. L. Whitton, A. Tishon, H. Lewicki, J. Gebhard, T. Cook, M. Salvato, E. Joly, and M. B. A. Oldstone, J. Virol. 63:4303-4310, 1989), permitted us to design a CTL vaccine and test its ability to protect against a lethal virus challenge. Here we show that a single immunization with a recombinant vaccinia virus-lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) vaccine (VVNPaa1-201) expressing the immunodominant epitope completely protected H-2d mice from lethal infection with LCMV but did not protect H-2b mice. Furthermore, we show that the success or failure of immunization was determined entirely by the host class I major histocompatibility glycoproteins. The difference in outcome between mice of these two haplotypes was consistent with the presence or absence in the immunizing sequences of an epitope for CTL recognition and is correlated with the induction of LCMV-specific H-2-restricted CTL in H-2d mice. Protection is not conferred by a humoral immune response, since LCMV-specific antibodies were not detectable in sera from VVNPaa1-201-immunized mice. In addition, passive transfer of sera from vaccinated mice did not confer protection upon naive recipients challenged with LCMV. Hence, the molecular dissection of viral proteins can uncover immunodominant CTL epitope(s) that can be engineered into vaccines that elicit CTL. A single CTL epitope can protect against a lethal virus infection, but the efficacy of the vaccine varies in a major histocompatibility complex-dependent manner.