Conventional vaccines are remarkably effective in adults but are much less successful in the very young, who are less able to initiate a mature immune response and who may carry maternal antibodies which inactivate standard vaccines. We set out to determine whether DNA immunization might circumvent these problems. We have previously shown that intramuscular injection of plasmid DNA encoding the nucleoprotein (NP) gene of lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) is capable of inducing immune responses and protecting 50% of adult mice against lethal and sublethal challenge with LCMV. Here we demonstrate that mouse pups injected with the same plasmid hours or days after birth produce major histocompatibility complex-restricted, NP-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) that persist into adulthood; 48% of vaccinated pups responded to subsequent sublethal viral challenge by the accelerated production of anti-NP LCMV-specific CTL, indicating that these animals had been successfully immunized by the plasmid DNA. In addition, these mice showed a >95% reduction in splenic viral titers 4 days postinfection compared to control mice, demonstrating a more rapid control of infection in vivo. Furthermore, pups born of and suckled on LCMV-immune dams (and therefore containing passively acquired anti-LCMV antibodies at the time of DNA inoculation) responded to the DNA vaccine in a similar manner, showing that maternally derived anti-LCMV antibodies do not significantly inhibit the generation of protective immune responses following DNA vaccination. These findings suggest that, at least in this model system, DNA immunization circumvents many of the problems associated with neonatal immunization.