Identification and characterization of antigen-specific T lymphocytes during the course of an immune response is tedious and indirect. To address this problem, the peptide-major histocompatability complex (MHC) ligand for a given population of T cells was multimerized to make soluble peptide-MHC tetramers. Tetramers of human lymphocyte antigen A2 that were complexed with two different human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-derived peptides or with a peptide derived from influenza A matrix protein bound to peptide-specific cytotoxic T cells in vitro and to T cells from the blood of HIV-infected individuals. In general, tetramer binding correlated well with cytotoxicity assays. This approach should be useful in the analysis of T cells specific for infectious agents, tumors, and autoantigens.