The human gamma-herpesviruses, EBV and Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus, are widely disseminated and are associated with the onset of a variety of malignancies. Thus, the development of prophylactic and therapeutic vaccination strategies is an important goal. The experimental mouse gamma-herpesvirus, gamma HV68 (or MHV-68), has provided an in vivo model for studying immune control of these persistent viruses. In the current studies, we have examined infectivity, immunogenicity, and protective efficacy following infection with a replication-deficient gamma HV68 blocked in late viral gene expression, ORF31STOP. The data show that ORF31STOP was able to latently infect B cells. However, the anatomical site and persistence of the infection depended on the route of inoculation, implicating a role for viral replication in viral spread but not the infectivity per se. Furthermore, i.p. infection with ORF31STOP elicited strong cellular immunity but a non-neutralizing Ab response. In contrast, intranasal infection was poorly immunogenic. Consistent with this, mice infected i.p. had enhanced control of both the lytic and latent viral loads following challenge with wild-type gamma HV68, whereas intranasal infected mice were not protected. These data provide important insight into mechanisms of infection and protective immunity for the gamma-herpesviruses and demonstrate the utility of replication-deficient mutant vi ruses indirect testing of "proof of principal" vaccination strategies.