The prophylactic application of inactivated parapox ovis viruses (Baypamun; Bayer AG, Leverkusen, Germany) has been shown to reduce efficiently the outbreak of stress-mediated diseases in different species. However, little is known about the basic mechanism behind this observed stimulatory property. We therefore tested eight inactivated poxvirus strains belonging to three different genera (Orthopoxvirus, Avipoxvirus, and Parapoxvirus) for their capacity to activate cells of the porcine innate and specific immune systems in vitro. The results indicated that poxviruses failed to induce increased phagocytosis, oxidative burst, or natural killer cell activity in swine. In contrast, enhanced release of interleukin-2, alpha interferon, and gamma interferon, as well as strong proliferation, could be measured. Flow cytometric analyses and cell sorting experiments identified T-helper cells as the main target responding to inactivated poxviruses: the activated cells had a CD4(high) CD25(+) major histocompatibility complex type II-positive phenotype and were the major source of secreted cytokines. Together, the results demonstrated that all tested poxviruses possessed immunostimulating capacity. These in vitro poxvirus-induced effects may be responsible at least in part for the in vivo immunostimulating capacity of inactivated poxviruses.