Twelve rhesus monkeys were vaccinated with SIVmac316 delta nef (lacking nef sequences), and 12 were vaccinated with SIVmac239 delta3 (lacking nef, vpr, and upstream sequences in U3). SIVmac316 and SIVmac239 differ by only eight amino acids in the envelope; these changes render SIVmac316 highly competent for replication in macrophages. Seventeen of the animals developed persistent infections with the vaccine viruses. Seven of the 24 vaccinated animals, however, developed infections that were apparently transient in nature. Six of these seven yielded virus from peripheral blood when tested at weeks 2 and/or 3, three of the seven had transient antibody responses, but none of the seven had persisting antibody responses. The 24 monkeys were challenged in groups of four with 10 rhesus monkey infectious doses of wild-type, pathogenic SIVmac251 at weeks 8, 20, and 79 following receipt of vaccine. None of the seven with apparently transient infections with vaccine virus were protected upon subsequent challenge. Analysis of cell-associated viral loads, CD4+ cell counts, and viral gene sequences present in peripheral blood in the remainder of the monkeys following challenge allowed a number of conclusions. (i) There was a trend toward increased protection with length of time of vaccination. (ii) Solid vaccine protection was achieved by 79 weeks with the highly attenuated SIV239 delta3. (iii) Solid long-term protection was achieved in at least two animals in the absence of complete sterilizing immunity. (iv) Genetic backbone appeared to influence protective capacity; animals vaccinated with SIV239 delta3 were better protected than animals receiving SIV316 delta nef. This better protection correlated with increased levels of the replicating vaccine strain. (v) The titer of virus-neutralizing activity in serum on the day of challenge correlated with protection when measured against a primary stock of SIVmac251 but not when measured against a laboratory-passaged stock. The level of binding antibodies to whole virus by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay also correlated with protection.