Unlike B cells, T cells lack the capacity to improve the affinity of their antigen receptors by somatic mutation. It is, therefore, believed that optimization of cellular immunity is mediated almost exclusively through selective expansion of T cells bearing receptors with the highest affinity for antigen. We show here that T cell responsiveness to peptide (termed "functional avidity") increased>50-fold during the early stages of viral infection. This indicated that T cells, like B cells, undergo extensive functional maturation in vivo. However, in contrast to B cells, maturation of the T cell response can occur without any appreciable change in T cell receptor affinity.