Studies of the murine immune response to infection with the intracellular bacterial pathogen Listeria monocytogenes have provided a wealth of information about innate and acquired immune defenses in the setting of an infectious disease. Our studies have focused on the MHC class I restricted, CD8+ T cell responses of Balb/c mice to L. monocytogenes infection. Four peptides that derive from proteins that L. monocytogenes secretes into the cytosol of infected cells are presented to cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) by the H2-Kd major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I molecule. We have found that bacterially secreted proteins are rapidly degraded in the host cell cytosol by proteasomes that utilize, at least in part, the N-end rule to determine the rate of degradation. The MHC class I antigen processing pathway is remarkably efficient at generating peptides that bind to MHC class I molecules. The magnitude of in vivo T cell responses, however, is influenced to only a small degree by the amount of antigen or the efficiency of antigen presentation. Measurements of in vivo T cell expansion following L. monocytogenes infection indicate that differences in the sizes of peptide-specific T cell responses are more likely owing to differences in the repertoire of naive T cells than to differences in peptide presentation. This notion is supported by our additional finding that dominant T cell populations express a more diverse T cell receptor (TCR) repertoire than do subdominant T cell populations.