Antigen-specific, CD8+, cytolytic T lymphocytes (CTLs) could potentially provide resistance to several infectious and malignant diseases. However, the cellular requirements for the generation of specific CTLs in human lymphocyte cultures are not well defined, and repetitive stimulation with antigen is often required. We find that strong CD8+ CTL responses to influenza virus can be generated from freshly isolated blood T cells, as long as dendritic cells are used as antigen presenting cells (APCs). Small numbers of dendritic cells (APC:T cell ratio of 1:50-1:100) induce these CTL responses from most donors in 7 d of culture, but monocytes are weak or inactive. Whereas both dendritic cells and monocytes are infected with influenza virus, the former serve as effective APCs for the induction of CD8+ T cells while the latter act as targets for the CTLs that are induced. The strong CD8+ response to influenza virus-infected dendritic cells is accompanied by extensive proliferation of the CD8+ T cells, but the response can develop in the apparent absence of CD4+ helpers or exogenous lymphokines. CD4+ influenza virus-specific CTLs can also be induced by dendritic cells, but the cultures initially must be depleted of CD8+ cells. These findings should make it possible to use dendritic cells to generate human, antigen-specific, CD8+ CTLs to other targets. The results illustrate the principle that efficient T cell-mediated responses develop in two stages: an afferent limb in which dendritic cells are specialized APCs and an efferent limb in which the primed T cells carry out an immune response to many types of presenting cells.