We have previously identified two subsets of CD8+, CD57+ lymphocytes in normal peripheral blood: i) T cells expressing high levels [CD8high(CD57+)] and ii) natural killer cells expressing low levels of surface CD8[CD8low(CD57+)]. We investigated the cytotoxic and suppressive function of CD8high(CD57+) T lymphocytes from normal, healthy individuals using standard chromium-release assays and limiting dilution analysis. In normal, healthy subjects, this cell subset suppressed the generation of cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) to autologous, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-transformed B cell lines (BCL). Depletion of CD8high(CD57+) T lymphocytes from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) resulted in a three- to sevenfold rise in CTL precursor frequency to autologous EBV-transformed BCL, but not allogeneic PBMC or BCL by LDA. Replacement of CD8high(CD57+) T lymphocytes in limiting dilution cultures led to the dose-dependent suppression of EBV-specific, but not allogeneic, CTL generation. Supernatant from CD8high(CD57+) T lymphocytes cultured with autologous BCL did not exhibit suppression, suggesting that soluble factors were not responsible. As CD8high(CD57+) T lymphocytes did not, themselves, exhibit cytotoxicity against autologous BCL, removal of BCL stimulator cells in co-culture was not the mechanism of suppression. Furthermore, while the CD8high(CD57+) T lymphocytes from healthy subjects suppressed the generation of CTL to autologous BCL, they did not suppress the cytotoxic activity of established mixed lymphocyte reactions or peptide-specific CTL clones, as has been reported in bone marrow transplant recipients and human immunodeficiency virus patients. This suggests that CD8high(CD57+) T lymphocytes from healthy subjects suppress the generation of, rather than killing by, CTL in a contact-dependent manner. To our knowledge, this is the first identification of a phenotypically distinct subset of human CD8+ T cells that can suppress generation of antigen-specific major histocompatibility complex class I-restricted CTL.