Manipulation of the cytokine microenvironment at the time of vaccination can influence immune responses to remote challenge, providing a strategy to study the molecular pathogenesis of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine-enhanced disease in the mouse model. Although treatment with antibody against IL-4 or recombinant IL-12 (rIL-12) at the time of formalin-inactivated RSV vaccination induced a similar shift in the pattern of cytokine mRNA expression upon live virus challenge, anti-IL-4 treated mice had increased CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocyte activity and reduced illness compared with rIL-12-treated mice. To define effector mechanisms responsible for these patterns, CD4+ and/or CD8+ T lymphocytes were selectively depleted in vivo at the time of RSV challenge. In rIL-12-treated mice, CD4+ lymphocytes made the largest contribution to IFN-gamma mRNA, RSV clearance, and illness, while in anti-IL-4 treated mice, CD8+ lymphocytes were the major effector. The effector responsible for virus clearance also mediated illness, suggesting that efficiency of virus clearance determined disease expression. These results demonstrate that the phenotype of effector cells involved in the immune response to virus challenge may be a more important determinant of disease than patterns of cytokine expression classically assigned to Th1 and Th2 lymphocytes.