T lymphocytes play a decisive role in the course and clinical outcome of viral retinal infection. This review focuses on aspects of the adaptive cellular immune response against viral pathogens in the retina. Two distinct models to study adaptive cell mediated immune responses in viral retinitis are presented: (i) experimental retinitis induced by murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV), where the immune system prevents necrotizing damage to the retina and (ii) retinitis induced by the non-cytopathic lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), where the retinal microanatomy is compromised not by the virus, but by the immune response itself. From these studies it is clear that, in the context of viral infections, the cytotoxic T cell response against a pathogen in the retina does not differ from that seen in other organs, and that once such a response has been initiated, clearing of virus from retinal tissue has priority over preservation of retinal architecture and function. Furthermore, implications drawn from these models for gene therapy in retinal diseases are discussed.