Fv-4 is a mouse gene that confers resistance to infection with ecotropic retroviruses. A candidate Fv-4 gene was cloned previously and found to resemble the 3' half of a murine leukemia virus (MuLV). To study the effect of this gene in vivo, we generated two transgenic mouse strains carrying the Fv-4 env gene under control of its presumed natural promoter, a cellular sequence unrelated to retroviruses. Transgenic progeny expressed a 3-kb Fv-4 env RNA in all of the organs and tissues examined, as well as an Fv-4 envelope antigen on the surface of thymocytes and spleen cells, similar to mice carrying the natural Fv-4 gene. One of the two transgenic strains (designated Fv4-2) expressed three to nine times as much transgene RNA and protein as the other strain (Fv4-11). When challenged with a Friend virus complex containing up to 10(4) XC PFU of Friend MuLV, Fv4-2 mice were completely resistant to development of splenomegaly and had no detectable ecotropic virus in the spleen or blood, confirming that the cloned Fv-4 gene is responsible for resistance to ecotropic MuLV in vivo. In contrast, Fv4-11 mice were only partially resistant, developing viremia and splenomegaly at the highest inoculum dose but recovering from viremia several weeks after inoculation with 10-fold less virus. The phenotype of recovery from viremia in Fv4-11 mice was unexpected and suggests that low levels of expression of the Fv-4 gene enhance the effectiveness of the immune response.