Modified vaccinia virus Ankara (MVA) is an attenuated strain of vaccinia virus (VV) that has attracted significant attention as a candidate viral vector vaccine for immunization against infectious diseases and treatment of malignancies. Although MVA is unable to replicate in most nonavian cells, vaccination with MVA elicits immune responses that approximate those seen after the administration of replication-competent strains of VV. However, the mechanisms by which these viruses elicit immune responses and the determinants of their relative immunogenicity are incompletely understood. Studying the interactions of VV and MVA with cells of the human immune system may elucidate these mechanisms, as well as provide a rational basis for the further enhancement of the immunogenicity of recombinant MVA vectors. Toward this end, we investigated the consequences of MVA or W infection of human dendritic cells (DCs), key professional antigen-presenting cells essential for the generation of immune responses. We determined that a block to the formation of intracellular viral replication centers results in abortive infection of DCs with both VV and MVA. MVA inhibited cellular protein synthesis more rapidly than VV and displayed a distinct pattern of viral protein expression in infected DCs. MVA also induced apoptosis in DCs more rapidly than VV, and DC apoptosis after MVA infection was associated with an accelerated decline in the levels of intracellular Bcl-2 and Bcl-XL. These findings suggest that antigen presentation pathways may contribute differentially to the immunogenicity of VV and MVA and that targeted modifications of virus-induced DC apoptosis may further increase the immunogenicity of MVA-vectored vaccines. Copyright © 2006, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.