Viral infection is a common, life-threatening complication after allogeneic bone marrow transplantation (BMT), particularly in the presence of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). Using cytomegalovirus (CMV) as the prototypic pathogen, we have delineated the mechanisms responsible for the inability tomount protective antiviral responses in this setting. Although CMV infection was self-limiting after syngeneic BMT, in the presence of GVHD after allogeneic BMT, CMV induced a striking cytopathy resulting in universal mortality in conjunction with a fulminant necrotizing hepatitis. Critically, GVHD induced a profound dendritic cell (DC) defect that led to a failure in the generation of CMV-specific CD8+ T-cell responses. This was accompanied by a defect in antiviral CD8+ T cells. In combination, these defects dramatically limited antiviral T-cell responses. The transfer of virus-specific cells circumvented the DC defects and provided protective immunity, despite concurrent GVHD. These data demonstrate the importance of avoiding GVHD when reconstructing antiviral immunity after BMT, and highlight the mechanisms by which the adoptive transfer of virus-specific T cells overcome the endogenous defects in priming invoked by GVHD.