In order to determine whether the neoplastic T cells from patients with cutaneous T-cell lymphoma express tumor-specific antigens that can serve as the targets of an immune response, we took advantage of family-specific monoclonal antibodies, magnetic bead technology, and recombinant cytokines, which provided the previously precluded ability to isolate and expand populations of purified tumor and autologous CD8 cytotoxic T cells. Four patients with advanced cutaneous T-cell lymphoma had CD8 cells that specifically killed autologous tumor in a class I limited fashion. Tumor cell cytolysis could be specifically enhanced by pre-culture with autologous gamma-irradiated tumor. The cytolytic T cells produced tumor necrosis factor-alpha in response to stimulation with autologous tumor. The presence of tumor-specific cytotoxic T cells recognizing distinctive class I associated molecules on cutaneous T-cell lymphoma tumor cells suggests that infiltration of early lesions by CD8 cells reflects host immunity to the neoplasm. These studies provide the foundation for the development of tumor vaccines through the use of cytotoxic T cells to isolate and characterize tumor-associated cutaneous T-cell lymphoma peptides.