Betanodaviruses are causative agents of viral nervous necrosis (VNN), a devastating disease of cultured marine fish worldwide. Virus particles contain a single type of coat protein that spontaneously assembles into virus-like particles (VLPs) when expressed in a baculovirus expression system. In the present study, the immunogenicity of betanodavirus VLPs and the protection they confer against VNN in the European sea bass Dicentrarchus labrax were investigated. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and seroneutralization tests performed on plasma from fish vaccinated intramuscularly with doses as low as 0.1 microg of VLPs indicated that the VLPs elicited the synthesis of specific antibetanodavirus antibodies with neutralizing activity. Moreover, fish vaccinated with VLPs were protected from challenge with live virus. Both the immune response and the protective effect against viral challenge were dose dependent. Reverse transcription-PCR data indicated that higher doses of vaccine also reduced the number of fish containing detectable quantities of betanodavirus RNA on day 30 after challenge. Taken together these data strongly support the hypothesis that VLPs obtained in the baculovirus expression system may represent an effective vaccine against VNN.