Cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) appear to be critical in resolving or reducing the severity of lentivirus infections. Retroviral vectors expressing the Gag/Pr or SU protein of the lentivirus equine infectious anemia virus (EIAV) were constructed and used to evaluate EIAV-specific CTL responses in horses. Three promoters, cytomegalovirus, simian virus SV40, and Moloney murine sarcoma virus (MoMSV) long terminal repeat (LTR), were used, and there was considerable variation in their ability to direct expression of Gag/Pr and SU. Vectors expressing EIAV proteins under the direction of MoMSV LTR and using the gibbon ape leukemia virus (GALV) Env for internalization were efficient at transducing equine kidney (EK) target cells and were effective targets for EIAV-specific CTL lysis. CTL from EIAV-infected horses caused lysis of retroviral vector-transduced EK cells expressing either Gag/Pr or SU in an ELA-A-restricted manner. In contrast, lysis of recombinant vaccinia virus-infected EK cells expressing Gag/Pr and SU/TM was often non-LA-A restricted. Five horses were immunized by direct intramuscular injection with a mixture of retroviral vectors expressing Gag/Pr or SU, and one responded with EIAV-specific CTL. This result indicates that retroviral vector stimulation of CTL in horses needs to be optimized, perhaps by inclusion of appropriate cytokine genes in the constructs. However, the studies demonstrated that retroviral vector-transduced target cells were very effective for in vitro dissection of EIAV-specific CTL responses.