A primary cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) response in vivo requires antigen presentation by cytosolic processing and can not in general be obtained by vaccination with soluble proteins. In the present work we have found that vaccination of mice with pre-processed synthetic peptides, corresponding to endogenous 9-mers produced in influenza A virus-infected cells, resulted in strong primary CTL responses. The generated CTL efficiently killed virus-infected target cells with preference for viral strains having the identical amino acid sequences to the peptides used for immunization. The optimal conditions for a primary in vivo CTL response was obtained with 100 micrograms peptide dissolved in incomplete Freund's adjuvant and injected s.c. at the base of tail. Spleen cells which had been primed 7-10 days earlier were restimulated for 5 days in vitro, using an optimal low peptide concentration (0.05 microM) and tested against virus-infected and peptide-treated target cells. The peptide-induced CTL were major histocompatibility complex class I restricted and CD8 positive.