The most common human viruses have different abilities to establish persistent chronic infection. Virus-specific T-cell responses are critical in the control of virus replication and in the prevention of disease in chronic infection. A large number of phenotypic markers and a series of functions have been used to characterize virus-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell responses, and these studies have shown great phenotypic and functional heterogeneity of the T-cell responses against different viruses. The heterogeneity of the T-cell response has been proposed to be specific to each virus. However, over the past 2 years, several studies have provided evidence that the phenotypic and functional heterogeneity of CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell responses is predominantly regulated by the levels of antigen load. The levels of antigen load modulate the phenotypic and functional patterns of the T-cell response within the same virus infection. Furthermore, the functional characterization of virus-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell responses has identified signatures of protective antiviral immunity. Polyfunctional, i.e. interleukin-2 and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) secretion and proliferation, and not monofunctional, i.e. IFN-gamma secretion, CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell responses represent correlates of protective antiviral immunity in chronic virus infections.