The outcome of antigen recognition by naive CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) in the periphery is orchestrated by CD4+ T-helper cells, and can either lead to priming or tolerization. The presence of T-helper cells favors the induction of CTL immunity, whereas the absence of T-helper cells can result in CTL tolerance. The action of T helper cells in CTL priming is mediated by CD40-CD40 ligand interactions. We demonstrate here that triggering of CD40 in vivo can considerably enhance the efficacy of peptide-based anti-tumor vaccines. The combination of a tolerogenic peptide vaccine containing a minimal essential CTL epitope with an activating antibody against CD40 converts tolerization into strong CTL priming. Moreover, CD40 ligation can provide an already protective tumor-specific peptide vaccine with the capacity to induce therapeutic CTL immunity in tumor-bearing mice. These findings indicate that the CD40-CD40 ligand pair can act as a 'switch', determining whether naive peripheral CTLs are primed or tolerized, and support the clinical use of CD40-stimulating agents as components of anti-cancer vaccines.