Peptide vaccines based on the use of MHC class I restricted epitopes are currently assayed for anti-tumor and anti-viral immunotherapy. With the aim of designing minimally modified, peptidase-resistant analogs, we developed a rational approach based on a detailed understanding of the degradation mechanism of peptides in serum. Degradation of murine tumor antigen P198 and human tumor antigen MAGE-3.A1 was followed by on line high performance liquid chromatography/electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (HPLC/ESI-MS). This method provided high precision and sensitivity for rapid and direct analysis of degradation fragments in a complex mixture and, very importantly, precise identification of transient degradation fragments present at low concentrations. The design of structurally modified analogs, and the analysis of their degradation by on-line HPLC/ESI-MS, allowed us to to demonstrate the efficiency of local modifications in the protection of a given peptide bond towards a specific peptidase activity.