The key to developing a therapeutic vaccine for chronic hepadnavirus infection lies in the characteristics of the host-immune response which leads to clearance of acute infection. Groups of 28-day-old ducks which had been surgically bursectomized (n = 10) or thymectomized (n = 13) on the day of hatch or were untreated (n = 21) were inoculated with 109 viral genome equivalents (vge) DHBV, then bled twice a week, and euthanased 40 days later. Serum and liver were tested for DHBV DNA and total leukocytes and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) counted. Liver and spleen sections were either stained with hematoxylin and eosin, and graded for inflammation or stained with peroxidase-labeled anti-human CD3 antibody and examined for T lymphocyte distribution. PBMC counts were similar in all groups. DHBV infection combined with bursectomy increased significantly, while thymectomy decreased significantly the total leukocyte count. The spleen and liver bursectomy increased T lymphocyte number while B cells were decreased. Converse changes were observed in thymectomized ducks. Histological evidence of hepatitis was present in infected control and bursectomized ducks but not in the uninfected control or infected thymectomized ducks. In control animals, DHBV challenge caused viremia in 17 and persistent infection in 11 (56%). Fewer thymectomized ducks (3/13, 23%) and significantly more (100%) bursectomized ducks remained persistently infected (P < 0.001). Unexpectedly, bursectomy led to persistence of infection while clearance of infection occurred normally in thymectomized ducks despite decreased T lymphocyte numbers. This suggests that clearance requires T and B lymphocyte collaboration.