Adoptive-transfer experiments with relatively large input numbers ( approximately 10(6)) of T cell receptor-transgenic (TCR-tg) T cells are widely used to model endogenous T cell responses to infection or immunization. We show that input numbers of naive TCR-tg T cells sufficient to squelch the endogenous response to the same epitope substantially alter the kinetics, proliferative expansion, phenotype, and efficiency of memory generation by the TCR-tg T cells in response to infection. Thus, responses from nonphysiologic input numbers of TCR-tg T cells fail to accurately mimic the endogenous T cell response. Importantly, seeding as few as approximately 10-50 TCR-tg T cells, which constitute a fraction of the endogenous repertoire, allowed vigorous proliferation and analysis of TCR-tg cells after infection in a scenario representing normal physiology for any individual TCR. These data strongly suggest that modeling the endogenous T cell response with TCR-tg cells will require every effort to approximate the endogenous precursor frequency.