Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis (VEE) virus is a mosquito-borne arbovirus of major human health significance in the New World. Currently two forms of VEE virus are used for immunization of humans and horses, i.e. a live attenuated and a formalin-inactivated vaccine. Clinical evidence suggests that these vaccines are not fully efficacious and may produce certain undesirable side-effects. In the present study, microspheres composed of biocompatible and biodegradable poly (DL-lactide-co-glycolide) (DL-PLG) were evaluated for their effectiveness as a delivery system of whole, inactivated VEE virus vaccine for the induction of protective immune responses. Mice receiving 50 μg VEE virus in microspheres composed of an equimolar ratio of DL-lactide and glycolide (50:50 DL-PLG) exhibited a primary circulating IgG antibody response which was approximately 32-times higher than the response induced with the same dose of unencapsulated (free) virus. A similar difference in responses was seen with antigen doses ranging from 3.1 to 50 μg. A rapid increase in antibody activity was seen after the secondary immunization (day 50). Formalin fixation of inactivated VEE virus was important for immunogenicity since the circulating anti-VEE virus antibody response induced with microencapsulated nonformalin-fixed virus vaccine was lower than that induced with microencapsulated formalin-fixed virus vaccine. Furthermore, at low antigen concentrations, DL-PLG microsphere vaccines prepared with the solvent methylene chloride induced higher antibody responses than those prepared using ethyl acetate as the solvent. Microencapsulated vaccine also induced higher VEE virus neutralization titers than did free virus vaccine. Finally, the microencapsulated virus was more effective than the free virus in inducing immune responses protective against systemic challenge with virulent VEE virus. These results demonstrate that DL-PLG microspheres containing formalin-fixed, inactivated VEE virus were effective in augmenting circulating IgG antibody levels and neutralization titers to the VEE virus following systemic immunization and in affording enhanced protection against systemic challenge with virulent VEE virus. The effects of antigen form and the microsphere processing solvent on the immunogenicity of the vaccine are discussed. © 1995.