There is now convincing evidence that autoreactive CD8+ T cells can contribute to the pathogenesis of organ-specific autoimmune diseases. In the non-obese diabetic mouse, there is direct evidence that beta-islet cell-specific CD8+ cytotoxic T cells have a pathogenic effect. In human diseases such as autoimmune diabetes and multiple sclerosis, indirect evidence also suggests a role for CD8+ T cells in tissue damage, although their antigen specificity is unknown. Transgenic mouse models as well as the use of knockout mice have been instrumental in the identification of the role of autoreactive CD8+ T cells. Spontaneous models of CD8+ T-cell-mediated autoimmunity generated through transgenesis should help delineate the effector mechanisms leading to tissue destruction. The study of autoreactive CD8+ T cells and the characterization of their antigenic specificity should help unravel the pathophysiology of organ-specific autoimmune diseases, help identify exacerbating foreign antigens, and allow the design of antigen-specific immunotherapy targeting the pathogenic autoreactive T cells.