We characterized the cellular immune response to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) infection in 12- to 14-month-old BALB/c mice, a model that mimics features of the human disease. Following intranasal administration, the virus replicated in the lungs, with peak titers on day 2 postinfection. Enhanced production of cytokines (tumor necrosis factor alpha [TNF-alpha] and interleukin-6 [IL-6]) and chemokines (CXCL10, CCL2, CCL3, and CCL5) correlated with migration of NK cells, macrophages, and plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDC) into the lungs. By day 7, histopathologic evidence of pneumonitis was seen in the lungs when viral clearance occurred. At this time, a second wave of enhanced production of cytokines (TNF-alpha, IL-6, gamma interferon [IFN-gamma], IL-2, and IL-5), chemokines (CXCL9, CXCL10, CCL2, CCL3, and CCL5), and receptors (CXCR3, CCR2, and CCR5), was detected in the lungs, associated with an influx of T lymphocytes. Depletion of CD8(+) T cells at the time of infection did not affect viral replication or clearance. However, depletion of CD4(+) T cells resulted in an enhanced immune-mediated interstitial pneumonitis and delayed clearance of SARS-CoV from the lungs, which was associated with reduced neutralizing antibody and cytokine production and reduced pulmonary recruitment of lymphocytes. Innate defense mechanisms are able to control SARS-CoV infection in the absence of CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells and antibodies. Our findings provide new insights into the pathogenesis of SARS, demonstrating the important role of CD4(+) but not CD8(+) T cells in primary SARS-CoV infection in this model.