Induction of cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) activity against conserved influenza antigens, e.g. nucleoprotein (NP) could be a step towards cross-protective influenza vaccine. The major challenge for non-replicating influenza vaccines aiming for activation of CTLs is targeting of antigen to the MHC class I processing and presentation pathway of professional antigen presenting cells, in particular dendritic cells (DCs). Intrinsic fusogenic properties of the vaccine particle itself can enable direct cytosolic delivery of the antigen by enhancing release of the antigen from the endosome to the cytosol. Alternatively, the vaccine particle would need to possess the capacity to activate DCs thereby triggering cell-intrinsic mechanisms of cross-presentation, processes that do not require fusion. Here, using fusion-active and fusion-inactive whole inactivated virus (WIV) as a vaccine model, we studied the relative contribution of these two pathways on priming and reactivation of influenza NP-specific CTLs in a murine model. We show that activation of bone marrow-derived DCs by WIV, as well as reactivation of NP-specific CTLs in vitro and in vivo were not affected by inactivation of membrane fusion of the WIV particles. However, in vivo priming of naive CTLs was optimal only upon vaccination with fusion-active WIV. Thus, DC-intrinsic mechanisms of cross-presentation are involved in the activation of CTLs upon vaccination with WIV. However, for optimal priming of naive CTLs these mechanisms should be complemented by delivery of antigen to the cytosol mediated by the membrane fusion capacity of the WIV particles. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.