We have studied the immunobiology of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a major cause of respiratory tract morbidity in children. As part of these studies, it was previously found that immunization of BALB/c (H-2d) mice with a recombinant vaccinia virus (rVV) which encoded the M2 protein of RSV provided complete protection against infection with RSV. This protection was transient and associated with M2-specific CD8+ T-cell (TCD8+) responses. In this study, we used two approaches to demonstrate that expression of an H-2Kd-restricted nonameric peptide (Ser Tyr Ile Gly Ser Ile Asn Asn Ile) corresponding to M2 residues 82 to 90 is necessary and sufficient to induce protective TCD8+ responses. First, infection of mice with an rVV which encoded the peptide M2Met82-90 induced levels of primary pulmonary TCD8+ and resistance to RSV challenge equivalent to that induced by infection with an rVV which expressed the complete M2 protein. Second, elimination of peptide binding to Kd by the replacement of Tyr with Arg at amino acid position 83 of the full-length protein completely abrogated the ability of an rVV-expressing full-length M2 to induce either M2-specific TCD8+ responses or resistance to RSV infection. These findings demonstrate that the M2(82-90) peptide is the sole determinant of immunity induced in BALB/c mice by the M2 protein and that a remarkably high level of transient resistance to infection with pulmonary virus is associated with TCD8+ responses to a single determinant.