We have earlier described an alternative MHC class I processing pathway for Sendai virus (SV) in H-2Kb-transfected T2 cells (T2Kb). These cells have deleted genes for transporters associated with Ag processing (TAP1/2) and proteasome subunits LMP2/7 but can still process SV for the presentation of an immunodominant nucleoprotein CTL epitope (nucleoprotein peptide 324-332, FAPGNYPAL, SV9), even in the presence of the fungal metabolite brefeldin A (BFA). Presently we have compared live and heat-inactivated SV to investigate whether infectious virus, including early events such as binding and fusion at the host cell membrane, is important for nonclassical MHC class I processing and immunogenicity. We have found that heated virus (56 degrees C, boiled or autoclaved) with no fusion and hemagglutinin-neuraminidase activities, behaves similar to live SV in T2kb cells by entering a TAP-independent and BFA-resistant pathway. In EL-4 cells, which do not express this nonclassical TAP-independent and BFA-resistant pathway, heat-treated SV is processed in a BFA-sensitive way. In T1Kb- and TAP1/2-transfected T2Kb cells, as in T2Kb cells, processing of heat-inactivated SV was completely BFA resistant. Heat-inactivated SV was also found to prime CTLs in vivo. We conclude that heat-inactivated SV can enter both BFA-sensitive and -resistant MHC class I processing pathways and that SV in this respect may be particularly efficient. What property in the SV that is important for this characteristic is presently not clear but might be useful for the deliberate generation of CTL responses in vivo.