The ability to induce protection against a genital challenge was studied in BALB/c female mice with three Chlamydia trachomatis mouse pneumonitis (MoPn) major outer membrane protein (MOMP) preparations as well as an acellular vaccine consisting of the chlamydial outer membrane complex (COMC). The MOMP preparations were extracted with three different types of detergents, sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS), n-octyl-beta-D-glucopyranoside (OGP), and Zwittergent 3-14 (Z3-14). A positive immunization control consisted of mice inoculated intranasally with 10(4) C. trachomatis MoPn inclusion-forming units (IFU). Mice inoculated with ovalbumin served as a negative control. Furthermore, a sham-immunized, nonchallenged group was included as a fertility control. Two weeks after the last immunization, the mice were challenged in the left ovarian bursa with 10(5) C. trachomatis MoPn IFU. Vaginal swabs were collected for culture, vaginal and serum samples were assayed for chlamydial-specific antibodies, and splenocytes were collected to determine the lymphoproliferative response. At 42 days after the challenge, the mice were mated with proven male breeder mice. Animals that were considered to be pregnant (as determined by weight) were killed, and the embryos were counted. A significant humoral and cell-mediated immune response was observed in all the groups of mice inoculated with chlamydial antigens. Antibodies to variable domain (VD)1 of the MOMP were detected in serum samples from all the immunized groups. However, antibodies to VD3 and VD4 were detected only in the groups immunized with the Z3-14-MOMP and the COMC. Mice immunized with COMC developed significant immunoglobulin A chlamydia-specific antibodies in the vagina, while mice immunized with the detergent-extracted MOMPs had low antibody titers. Following the intrabursal challenge, a significant decrease in the intensity and duration of vaginal shedding was noted in the mice immunized with COMC and a moderate decrease was noted in the group immunized with OGP-MOMP. No protection against the infection was noted in the groups of animals immunized with SDS- and Z3-14-MOMP. Furthermore, of the mice immunized with the COMC preparation, only 25% (4 of 20) shed C. trachomatis, as determined by vaginal culture, while 83% (40 of 48) of the control mice inoculated with ovalbumin were culture positive (P < 0.05). In addition, after mating, the mice inoculated with COMC were found to have fertility rates comparable to those of the control sham-immunized, nonchallenged animals (70% [14 of 20] versus 81% [17 of 21], respectively [P > 0.05]), and there were no significant differences between the average number of embryos per mouse in the two groups (5.1 versus 5.9, respectively [P > 0.05]). In contrast, mice immunized with the purified MOMP preparations were not protected against infertility. In summary, a preparation of the COMC protected mice against infection and infertility, supporting the feasibility of the development of an acellular vaccine against C. trachomatis infections.