Abstract Current vaccines for the avian respiratory disease infectious laryngotracheitis consist of naturally attenuated strains of the causative agent—the herpesvirus infectious laryngotracheitis virus (ILTV). Due to the dissemination of these viruses from vaccinated chickens as well as their possible reversion to more pathogenic forms, the use of genetically engineered viral vaccines lacking virulence factors while retaining antigenicity is being considered. Since the thymidine kinase (TK) activity of herpesviruses has been associated with virulence, inactivation of the encoding gene in the ILTV genome should attenuate the virus. Moreover, by analogy to other TK - herpesviruses, the ability of such ILTV mutants to induce a protective response in chickens should not be compromised. Therefore, the deliberate genetic alteration of ILTV was attempted. In order to prevent reversion and also to enable identification of the modified virus, a "marker" transcriptional unit ( Escherichia coli lacZ gene fused to a SV-40 3′-polyadenylation signal sequence and regulated by the pseudorabies virus gX gene promoter) was inserted via homologous recombination at one of two loci within the ILTV TK gene. Recombinant viruses were identified and plaque-purified on the basis of their ability to produce β-galactosidase. Retention of the foreign DNA at the predicted sites in the genomes of the recombinant ILTV was verified by Southern hybridization. Since their replication was unaffected by the thymine analog 1-(2-fluoro-2-deoxy-β- d-arabinofuranosyl)-5-methyluracil, the recombinants appeared to have a TK - phenotype. Despite this apparent deficiency, prior inoculation of either recombinant virus into chickens afforded the birds protection against a lethal challenge of virulent ILTV. Moreover, the degree of respiratory distress in the chickens vaccinated with the recombinants was relatively mild compared to the severe reaction in birds receiving the parental virus. Thus, ILTV can be genetically attenuated without an accompanying loss of immunogenicity.