CD8+ T lymphocytes play a major role in antiviral immune defense. Their significance for acute hepatitis C is unclear. Our aim was to correlate the CD8+ T cell response with the outcome of infection. Eighteen patients with acute hepatitis C and 19 normal donors were studied. Hepatitis C virus (HCV)-specific CD8+ T cells were identified in the enzyme-linked immunospot assay by their interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) production after specific stimulation. The highest numbers of IFN-gamma-producing HCV-specific CD8+ T cells were found in patients with acute hepatitis C and a self-limited course of disease during the first 6 months after onset of disease, but these numbers dropped thereafter to undetectable levels. The differences in responsiveness between patients with self-limited disease versus patients with a chronic course were statistically significant (P<.001). Our data show that the number of IFN-gamma-producing HCV-specific CD8+ T cells during the first 6 months after onset of disease is associated with eradication of the HCV infection.