Protection from cytomegalovirus (CMV) disease in immunocompromised hosts has been shown to correlate with recovery of the host virus- specific CD8+ T-cell response. The administration of ganciclovir to immunosuppressed transplant recipients as antiviral prophylaxis has reduced the early risk of CMV disease, but late disease is observed with increased frequency, suggesting that recovery of the CMV-specific T-cell responses necessary for protective immunity may be delayed in these patients. Therefore, we evaluated reconstitution of CMV-specific T-cell responses in 47 bone marrow transplant (BMT) recipients entered on a randomized placebo-controlled study of ganciclovir. The study drug was initiated at a mean of 24 days after BMT. At day 30 to 40, a minority of patients had recovery of T-cell immunity to CMV and the frequency of reconstitution was equivalent in patients randomized to ganciclovir or placebo. The failure of ganciclovir to effect early reconstitution may reflect the short duration of treatment. Early recovery was associated with the infusion of BM from a CMV seropositive donor (P = .07 for CD8+ cytotoxic T cell (CTL), P = .04 for CD4+ Th). Between day 40 and day 90, recovery of deficient CD8+ and CD4+ CMV- specific T-cell responses occurred in the majority of individuals that received placebo, but in a minority of ganciclovir recipients. Two cases of late-onset CMV disease occurred in ganciclovir recipients. In all patients, the presence of a CTL response to CMV conferred protection from subsequent CMV disease (P = .005), and these protective CTL responses are shown to be specific for structural virion proteins similar to the responses in immunocompetent CMV seropositive individuals. These data confirm the importance of CMV-specific T-cell responses and suggest that a delay in recovery of these responses as a result of ganciclovir prophylaxis may contribute to the occurrence of late CMV disease.