p53 is an attractive target for cancer immunotherapy because it is overexpressed in a high proportion of many different types of tumors. However, it is also expressed in normal tissues and acts as a toleragen in vivo. Previously, detailed examination of the repertoire specific for the murine p53(261-269) epitope in conventional and p53-deficient mice demonstrated that because of expression of p53, the CD8(+) T cells that respond to this epitope express low-affinity TCRs. It has been reported that tolerance to tumor Ags can be broken by in vivo administration of anti-CTLA-4 mAb. With the goal of overriding tolerance and achieving optimal activation of p53-specific CTL, the current study has assessed the effect of anti-CTLA-4 mAb on the p53-specific repertoire. It was found that blockade of CTLA-4 engagement at the time of antigenic stimulation induced a vigorous amplification of the CTL responses to p53 as well as proportionate expansion of the memory T cell pool. This effect was dependent on the presence of CD4(+) T cell help and correlated with an enhancement of helper function. However, anti-CTLA-4 treatment did not enhance the avidity of the resultant p53-specific CTL populations and, therefore, could not reverse this important consequence of tolerance.