CD137 is a member of the TNFR-family with costimulatory function. Here we show that it also has many favorable characteristics as a surrogate marker for antigen-specific activation of human CD8(+) T cells. Although undetectable on unstimulated CD8(+) T cells, it is uniformly up-regulated 24 hours after stimulation on virtually all responding cells regardless of differentiation stage or profile of cytokine secretion, which circumvents limitations of current surrogate markers for defining the repertoire of responding cells based on only individual functions. Antibody-labeled responding CD137(+) cells can be easily and efficiently isolated by flow sorting or magnetic beads to substantially enrich antigen-specific T cells. To test this approach for epitope discovery, we examined in vitro priming of naive T cells from healthy donors to Wilms tumor antigen 1 (WT1), a protein overexpressed in various malignancies. Two overlapping pentadecamers were identified as immunogenic, and further analysis defined WT1((286-293)) as the minimal amino acid sequence and HLA-Cw07 as the HLA restriction element. In conclusion, this approach appears to be an efficient and sensitive in vitro technique to rapidly identify and isolate antigen-specific CD8(+) T cells present at low frequencies and displaying heterogeneous functional profiles, and does not require prior knowledge of the specific epitopes recognized or the HLA-restricting elements.