The immunological and molecular mechanisms that govern T cell responses to human malignant tumours are just starting to be understood within a more complex framework of humoral, cellular and molecular interactions. The definition of multiple antigens simultaneously expressed on human melanoma, as detected with cytolytic T cells in immunoselection experiments, is a first step towards the molecular characterization of these antigens. Observations on the influence of expression of restriction elements of the major histocompatibility complex on the recognition of these tumour associated antigens have advanced our understanding of how the immune system responds to cancer cells in vivo. It is specificity that is tuning the immune system, not only in cancer. The molecular characterization of the first human cancer antigen recognized by CTL is now under way as outlined by Boon et al in this issue.