CD8+ cytolytic T lymphocytes (CTLs) are important mediators for resistance to infections and malignant diseases. IL-12 enhances proliferative and cytolytic responses by killer cells, but its function in the generation of human antiviral CD8+ T cell responses has not been defined. We therefore evaluated the role of IL-12 in the generation of CTLs to influenza-infected dendritic cells. IL-12 was not detectable in supernatants of infected-dendritic cells, or during CTL generation. Furthermore, anti-IL-12 antibody did not block CTL generation. However, exogenous IL-12 (30-300 pg/ml) enhanced CD8+ T cell proliferative and cytolytic responses. The effect was greatest in individuals with weak reactivity to influenza virus or at antigen-presenting cell (APC):T cell ratios of 1:100 or less. IL-12 augmented interferon-gamma production during CTL generation. The CTL enhancing effects of the cytokine, however, could not be blocked by neutralizing anti-interferon-gamma antibody. Together with IL-12, antigen-pulsed dendritic cells may be a useful approach for boosting CTL responses against infectious agents and malignancies.