Abstract Repeated subcutaneous (s.c.) injections of recombinant granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (recGM-CSF) for 4–5 days can enrich an immunization site with antigen-presenting cells (APC), which has been correlated with improved immune responses in experimental and clinical studies. A recombinant vaccinia virus encoding the GM-CSF gene (rV-GM-CSF) has been developed and can generate specific antitumour immunity in a whole tumour cell vaccine. In the present study, we examined whether rV-GM-CSF could produce and release GM-CSF locally which, in turn, might enrich a site of immunization for APC as previously shown for recGM-CSF. S.c. injection of rV-GM-CSF significantly ( P <0.05) enhanced the percentage and overall number of APC, measured by class II expression levels, in the regional lymph nodes that drain the injection site. Dose- and temporal-dependent studies showed class II expression levels in the draining lymph nodes were maximally enhanced 5–7 days after a single injection of 10 7plaque-forming units (pfu) of rV-GM-CSF. Flow cytometry revealed that the increase in class II expression resulted from (i) a higher class II expression level on CD19 +B cells and (ii) an increase in the number of CD11c +/class II +professional APC within the draining lymph nodes. Moreover, isolation of lymph nodes from rV-GM-CSF-treated mice revealed their capacity to support higher levels of antigen-specific T cell proliferation and allospecific cytotoxic responses. A comparison between a single injection of rV-GM-CSF and a 4-day course of recGM-CSF revealed comparable changes in class II expression and functional T cell assays. GM-CSF can be delivered in a recombinant poxvirus, and the local production of the cytokine results in cellular and phenotypic changes that are similar to those of recGM-CSF. The ability to utilize rV-GM-CSF as a single inoculum may be more compatible with traditional immunization strategies.