Dominant epitope-specific CD8(+) T-lymphocyte responses play a central role in controlling viral spread. We explored the basis for the development of this focused immune response in simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV)- and simian-human immunodeficiency virus (SHIV)-infected rhesus monkeys through the use of two dominant (p11C and p199RY) and two subdominant (p68A and p56A) epitopes. Using real-time PCR to quantitate T-cell receptor (TCR) variable region beta (Vbeta) family usage, we show that CD8(+) T-lymphocyte populations specific for dominant epitopes are characterized by a diverse Vbeta repertoire, whereas those specific for subdominant epitopes employ a dramatically more focused Vbeta repertoire. We also demonstrate that dominant epitope-specific CD8(+) T lymphocytes employ TCRs with multiple CDR3 lengths, whereas subdominant epitope-specific cells employ TCRs with a more restricted CDR3 length. Thus, the relative dominance of an epitope-specific CD8(+) T-lymphocyte response reflects the clonal diversity of that response. These findings suggest that the limited clonal repertoire of subdominant epitope-specific CD8(+) T-lymphocyte populations may limit the ability of these epitope-specific T-lymphocyte populations to expand and therefore limit the ability of these cell populations to contribute to the control of viral replication.