A recombinant vaccinia virus that expresses the nucleoprotein gene of Lassa virus (Josiah strain) under the control of the P7.5 promoter was constructed using the lacZ coexpression transfer vector pSC11. Southern blot analysis demonstrated that recombination of the sequences inserted within the thymidine kinase gene of the transfer vector into the HindIII J fragment of vaccina virus genomic DNA occurred properly. A 63-kDa protein identical in electrophoretic mobility to authentic Lassa nucleoprotein was observed in recombinant virus-infected cell lysates. The reactivity of vaccinia-expressed Lassa proteins to a panel of monoclonal antibodies representing multiple epitopes on each of the N, G1, and G2 proteins was determined by indirect immunofluorescence. Lassa proteins expressed in recombinant vaccinia virus-infected cells reacted in a manner indistinguishable from that of the proteins expressed in Lassa virus-infected cells, indicating that there are no significant differences between authentic and recombinant virus-expressed proteins. Vaccine efficacy trials in guinea pigs indicated that both the nucleoprotein and the envelope glycoproteins are capable of eliciting a protective immune response against a lethal dose of Lassa virus. Ninety-four percent of the animals vaccinated with V-LSN, 79% vaccinated with V-LSGPC, and 58% vaccinated with both recombinant viruses survived a Lassa virus challenge in which only 14% of unvaccinated animals and 39% of animals vaccinated with the New York Board of Health (NYBH) strain of vaccinia virus survived. The protection resulting from vaccination with the recombinant virus vaccines did not correlate with the levels of prechallenge serum antibodies, suggesting that a cell-mediated immune response is a critical component of protective immunity to Lassa fever.