Memory CD8 T lymphocyte populations are remarkably heterogeneous and differ in their ability to protect the host. In order to identify the whole range of qualities uniquely associated with protective memory cells we compared the gene expression signatures of two qualities of memory CD8 T cells sharing the same antigenic-specificity: protective (Influenza-induced, Flu-TM) and non-protective (peptide-induced, TIM) spleen memory CD8 T cells. Although Flu-TM and TIM express classical phenotypic memory markers and are polyfunctional, only Flu-TM protects against a lethal viral challenge. Protective memory CD8 T cells express a unique set of genes involved in migration and survival that correlate with their unique capacity to rapidly migrate within the infected lung parenchyma in response to influenza infection. We also enlighten a new set of poised genes expressed by protective cells that is strongly enriched in cytokines and chemokines such as Ccl1, Ccl9 and Gm-csf. CCL1 and GM-CSF genes are also poised in human memory CD8 T cells. These immune signatures are also induced by two other pathogens (vaccinia virus and Listeria monocytogenes). The immune signatures associated with immune protection were identified on circulating cells, i.e. those that are easily accessible for immuno-monitoring and could help predict vaccines efficacy.