Primary macrophage cultures were prepared from the peritoneal exudate cell population harvested from mice challenged intraperitoneally with saline, thioglycollate, or vaccinia virus. Vaccinia virus was adsorbed and penetrated into primary macrophages and L-cells with similar kinetics. As evidenced by the expression of some "early" virus-specified proteins, partial uncoating and activation of the virion-associated DNA-dependent RNA polymerase occurred in the infected macrophages. Subsequently, the viral replication cycle in macrophages was aborted; with time after infection, viral DNA and virion proteins initially associated with infected cells could be detected in an acid-soluble form in the medium harvested from infected macrophage cultures. The results suggest that at the time that the final stages of virus uncoating should have occurred, intracellular subviral particles were, instead, degraded in the infected, primary macrophages. Viral DNA synthesis could not be measured in vaccinia virus-infected macrophages, no "late" virus functions were expressed, and progeny virions were not assembled. As measured by the binding of antiviral-antibody-125I-protein A complexes to the surface of vaccinia virus-infected cells, the expression of virus-specified antigens on the surfaces of infected macrophages was significantly reduced and never exceeded that measured at 2 hr after infection on the surfaces of infected L-cells. The expression of virus-specified polypeptides with mol mass of 48-50, 45-46, 36-37, and 25 kDa on the plasma membranes of vaccinia virus-infected, thioglycollate-elicited macrophages, rendered the infected macrophages susceptible to lysis by vaccinia virus-specific cytotoxic T-cells.