Infection of the mouse cornea with herpes simplex virus (HSV) results in an immunopathologic disease of the eye termed herpetic stromal keratitis (HSK), in which the principal orchestrator is the CD4+ T cell. The mouse genotype largely determines susceptibility or resistance to HSK. BALB/c mice (H2dIgh-1a) are susceptible, while its congenic C.B-17 strain (H2dIgh-1b), which differs only in the Ig heavy chain locus, is resistant to HSK. As the magnitude and duration of viral replication as well as anti-HSV immune responses were similar in both strains, it was determined whether resistance was due to failure of CD4+ T cells to organize the immunopathologic reaction. Adoptive transfer of HSV-primed or naive CD4+ T cells from resistant C.B-17 strain into HSV-infected SCID mice resulted in HSK lesions indistinguishable from those caused by similar transfers of BALB/c CD4+ T cells. Similar results were obtained with transfers of whole T cell populations as well as with unfractionated splenocytes from the resistant mice. These results show that while intact C.B-17 mice exhibit resistance to HSK, they possess potentially pathogenic CD4+ T cells in their repertoire. The data suggest that the HSV-infected SCID mouse provides a proinflammatory microenvironment that overrides regulatory controls and/or cause activation of quiescent cells into aggressive effector T cells that orchestrate HSK.