Whether memory T cells require persisting antigen for their survival has been a matter of debate. One prominent view that memory T cells do not require persisting antigen is based in part on studies in which T cell populations have been transferred into antigen-free mice. To generate "space" recipients were often irradiated; the functional properties of the transfused T cells were then evaluated after prolonged periods. In this report we show that transferring cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) into irradiated or T and B cell-deficient hosts results in their proliferation and a change of their activation state. Moreover, naïve T cell receptor-transgenic CTL specific for the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus glycoprotein spontaneously developed cytotoxic effector function under such conditions. Therefore, some of the conclusions based on transfer of T cell populations into irradiated recipients to investigate T cell memory may have to be reevaluated.