Cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) may play an important role in the control of human papillomavirus (HPV)-induced anogenital neoplasias, but have been difficult to study owing to the difficulty in obtaining sufficient quantities of infectious virus. To address this we have stimulated human HPV-specific CTL in vitro using low-density cells (LDC) from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). Low-density cells were used to present synthetic peptides, or endogenously processed peptides expressed from recombinant vaccinia viruses, to high-density PBMC (predominantly lymphocytes) for 6 days. Cytotoxic T lymphocytes stimulated with endogenously processed HPV 11 E7 recognized the synthetic HLA-A2 (A*0201) motif-containing nonamer, 4-12. In reciprocal experiments, CTL stimulated with this peptide in vitro recognized targets expressing endogenously processed E7. The responses in each case were A2 restricted and peptide specific. Two additional A2 motif-containing nonamers from HPV 6b E7 (21-30 and 47-55) also elicited peptide-specific, A2-restricted CTL. The data illustrate the potential that in vitro stimulation with LDC has in understanding CTL responses to experimentally problematic viral systems such as HPV, and may offer a route to specific immunotherapy of HPV-associated lesions.