Although primary antiviral CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) can be induced in mice depleted of CD4+ T cells, the role of CD4+ T lymphocytes in the generation and maintenance of antiviral memory CTL is uncertain. This question, and the consequences upon vaccine-mediated protection, were investigated in transgenic CD4 knockout (CD4ko) mice, which lack CD4+ T lymphocytes. Infection of immunocompetent C57BL/6 mice with lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), or with recombinant vaccinia viruses bearing appropriate LCMV sequences, induces long-lasting protective immunity, mediated mainly by antiviral CD8+ CTL. Here we report two important findings. First, LCMV-specific CD8+ memory CTL are maintained at considerably lower levels in CD4ko mice than in normal C57BL/6J mice; we demonstrate a reduction in precursor CTL evident as soon as 30 days postimmunization and declining, by day 120, to levels 1 to 2 log units below those in normal mice. Thus, CD4+ T cells appear to be important to the generation and maintenance of their CD8+ counterparts. Second, this reduction has an important biological consequence; compared with immunocompetent mice, CD4ko mice immunized with vaccinia virus recombinants expressing nucleoprotein or glycoprotein of LCMV are less effectively protected from subsequent LCMV challenge. Thus, this study underscores the potential importance of CD4+ T lymphocytes in generation of appropriate levels of CD(8+)-cell-mediated immunoprotective memory and has implications for vaccine efficacy in individuals with immune defects in which CD4 levels may be reduced, such as AIDS.