Experimentally infected rhesus monkeys serve as an indispensable animal model to assess the pathogenesis, to validate therapy approaches and to develop vaccination strategies against viral diseases such as AIDS threatening the human population. Upon infection with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), a retrovirus closely related to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), macaques develop clinical manifestations similar to those of HIV-infected humans. As in humans, the disease course is variable. Polymorphic genes of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) are required for the initiation and regulation of a specific immune response and represent a major host factor accounting for the differential outcome of infection. During the last few years, our understanding of the structure and function of the rhesus macaque MHC has increased substantially. Functional studies have led to the identification of specific SIV and HIV peptide epitopes presented by rhesus macaque MHC molecules. The subsequent devel opment of MHC class I tetramers has allowed further insight into the cellular immune response following SIV-infection. Detailed studies demonstrated that viral escape mutants are generated during the acute and chronic phase of infection and explain why control of viral replication ultimately fails. Furthermore, particular MHC haplotypes which influence disease progression have been discovered. Thus, MHC-typing can have a prognostic potential. The further elucidation of the rhesus macaque MHC and the search for other relevant genes will remain an important task for future research and will stimulate all immunologically-related investigations in macaques.