Many new types of vaccines against infectious or malignant diseases are currently being proposed. Careful characterization of the induced immune response is required in assessing their efficiency. While in most studies human tumor antigen-specific T cells are analyzed after in vitro re-stimulation, we investigated these T cells directly ex vivo using fluorescent tetramers. In peripheral blood lymphocytes from untreated melanoma patients with advanced disease, a fraction of tumor antigen (Melan-A/MART-1)-specific T cells were non-naive, thus revealing tumor-driven immune activation. After immunotherapy with synthetic peptides plus adjuvant, we detected tumor antigen-specific T cells that proliferated and differentiated to memory cells in vivo in some melanoma patients. However, these cells did not present the features of effector cells as found in cytomegalovirus specific T cells analyzed in parallel. Thus, peptide plus adjuvant vaccines can lead to activation and expansion of antigen specific CD8(+) T cells in PBL. Differentiation to protective CD8(+) effector cells may, however, require additional vaccine components that stimulate T cells more efficiently, a major challenge for the development of future immunotherapy.