A non-human primate model for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV)-infected rhesus monkey, was used to explore the role of the AIDS virus-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) response in disease pathogenesis. This CTL response was measured using the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I/peptide tetramer technology. Large numbers of tetramer-binding CD8+ T lymphocytes were demonstrable not only in the peripheral blood, but in lymph nodes and even in semen of chronically SIV-infected monkeys. The central role of these effector T lymphocytes in containing SIV spread during primary infection was demonstrated by showing that early SIV clearance during primary infection correlated with the emergence of the tetramer binding CD8+ T lymphocytes and that in vivo depletion of CD8+ lymphocytes eliminated the ability of the infected monkeys to contain SIV replication. These observations suggest that an effective AIDS vaccine should elicit a potent virus-specific CTL response. In fact, a live, recombinant SIV vaccine constructed using the attenuated pox virus vector modified vaccinia Ankara (MVA) elicited a high-frequency CTL response, comparable in magnitude to that elicited by SIV infection itself. This suggests that vaccine modalities such as MVA may prove useful in creating an effective human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) vaccine. These studies also indicate the power of both the SIV/macaque model and MHC class I/peptide tetramers for assessing AIDS vaccine strategies.