Cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) responses to E6 and E7 were previously shown to be more commonly detectable in human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV-16)-positive women without squamous intraepithelial neoplasia (SIL) than in HPV-16-positive women with SIL (M. Nakagawa, D. P. Stites, S. Farhat, J. R. Sisler, B. Moss, F. Kong, A. B. Moscicki, and J. M. Palefsky, J. Infect. Dis. 175:927-931, 1997). The objective of this study was to characterize the phenotype(s) of the effector cell population responsible for HPV-16 E6- and E7-specific cytotoxic responses. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were stimulated with HPV-16 E6 or E7 fusion protein. Cells from an autologous B-lymphoblastoid cell line, infected with vaccinia virus expressing E6 or E7, served as target cells. The effector cells were characterized by using natural-killer-cell removal, antibody blocking, and T-cell subset separation. Our results suggest that both CD4 and CD8 T lymphocytes contribute to HPV-16 E6- and E7-specific CTL responses although their relative contributions vary from individual to individual. On the other hand, natural killer cells in the effector cell population contribute to background activities but not to HPV-specific responses in this assay system.