SCID mice reconstituted with adult human peripheral blood leukocytes (hu-PBL-SCID mice) make antigen-specific human antibody responses following secondary immunization and can be infected with human immunodeficiency virus 1 (HIV-1), suggesting that they might prove useful for evaluating protective immunity to HIV-1 following vaccination of PBL donors. HIV-seronegative volunteers were immunized with vaccinia expressing HIV-1LAV-1/Bru 160-kDa envelope glycoprotein (vaccinia gp160) and subsequently given booster injections of recombinant gp160 protein (rgp160). Their PBLs were used at intervals of 4-72 weeks after booster injections to construct hu-PBL-SCID mice, which were then challenged with 10(2)-10(3) minimal animal infectious doses of highly homologous HIV-1IIIB. Control hu-PBL-SCID mice were constructed from donors receiving vaccinia, alum, or hepatitis B vaccine. Protection against virus infection was defined as the absence of HIV-1 by culture and no detection of proviral genomes following PCR amplification. Control animals were highly susceptible to HIV infection. By contrast, hu-PBL-SCID mice reconstituted with cells from three of four donors immunized with vaccinia gp160 and recently injected with rgp160 showed no evidence of HIV-1 infection by culture or PCR assays. With increasing time after rgp160 injection, the ability of vaccine-derived hu-PBL-SCID mice to resist HIV-1 infection diminished. These results demonstrate that a potentially protective human immune response was stimulated by this HIV gp160 immunization protocol and show the utility of the hu-PBL-SCID model in the rapid evaluation of candidate vaccines.