Genetically simplified derivatives of complex retroviruses that replicate in animal models are useful tools to study the rule of the complex regulatory genes in virus infection and pathogenesis and were proposed as a novel approach toward the development of vaccines against complex retroviruses. Previously we developed genetically simple derivatives of bovine leukemia virus (BLV) that can replicate in tissue culture independently of the BLV regulatory proteins, Tax and Rex, and the Rill and GIV open reading frames (K. Boris-Lawrie and H. M. Temin, J. Virol. 69:1920- 1924, 1905). These derivatives are encoded on novel, hybrid retrovirus genomes that contain transcriptional control sequences of a simple retrovirus and gag-pol or env genes of the complex BLV. The first-generation simple BLV derivatives replicate as complementary viruses (coviruses) by using separate gag-pol or env genomes, and therefore virus spread is limited to cells that are infected with both covirus genomes. Here we describe a second-generation simple BLV derivative that is encoded on a single hybrid genome. We show the virus to be replication competent by successive passage on D17 target cells and by analysis of viral RNA and proteins in the infected cells. Furthermore, we evaluate the immunogenicity and infectivity of the simple BLV derivatives in a BLV animal model. Small groups of rats were injected either with virus- producing cells or with proviral DNA. Western immunoblot analysis revealed that antibodies against the major viral antigenic determinants are induced in response to either method of introduction and that sero-conversion is sustained in must of the rats for at least 6 months (the duration of the study). The magnitudes of the antiviral responses were similar in rats infected with the first-generation simple BLV coviruses, the second- generation replication-competent derivative, or wild-type BLV. Wild-type BLV typically infects peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), and the simple BLV derivatives were also found to infect PBMC as demonstrated by PCR amplification of proviral sequences and reverse transcriptase PCR amplification of viral RNA in treated rats. These results establish that simple BLV derivatives lacking tax and rex are infectious and immunogenic in rats. These viruses will be useful tools in comparative studies with BLV to evaluate the role of tax and rex in maintenance of virus load and in disease outcome.