The contribution of cell-mediated immunity to protective immunity against virulent transmissible gastroenteritis virus (TGEV) infection conferred by primary porcine respiratry coronavirus (PRCV) or TGEV exposure was assessed in pigs that were challenged with TGEV 24 days after a primary oronasal inoculation with PRCV or TGEV when 11 days old. PRCV exposure induced partial protection against TGEV challenge in suckling pigs based upon a decreased number of diarrhea cases (42% vs. 90% in age-matched control pigs), limited virus shedding in feces, and increases in virus-neutralizing serum antibody titers; in contrast, all 11-day-old pigs inoculated with TGEV were completely protected after challenge. Weaned pigs were also studied to eliminate any possibility that lactogenic immunity from contact PRCV-exposed sows contributed to protection against TGEV. Once weaned, none of the PRCV-exposed or age-matched control pigs had diarrhea after TGEV challenge; moreover, both groups exhibited less rectal virus shedding than suckling pigs. Vigorous lymphocyte proliferative responses (> 96 000 counts per minute (cpm)) were detected in mononuclear cells prepared from mesenteric (MLN) and bronchial (BLN) lymph nodes of TGEV-primed pigs. Analyses of these responses indicate that virus-specific cell-mediated immune responses correlated with protection against rectal and nasal virus shedding after TGEV challenge. Primary inoculation of 11-day-old pigs with PRCV induced moderate, transient virus-specific lymphocyte proliferation (> 47 000 cpm) in MLN from both suckling and weaned pigs after TGEV challenge. Substantial BLN proliferative responses (> 80 000 cpm) correlated with failure to detect TGEV in nasal secretions from these pigs. Virus-specific lymphocyte proliferation in spleens was delayed in onset and of lower magnitude than that observed in MLN and BLN. Virulent TGEV exposure resulted in increased percentages of T cell subsets, especially in the lamina propria and MLN, mucosaassociated lymphoid tissues in proximity to the primary replication site of TGEV in the small intestine. Our results confirm that PRCV infection primes anti-viral immune responses and, thus, contributes to partial immunity against virulent TGEV challenge.