T cells are extremely sensitive in their ability to find minute amounts of antigenic peptide in the midst of many endogenous peptides presented on an antigen-presenting cell. The role of endogenous peptides in the recognition of foreign peptide and hence in T cell activation has remained controversial for CD8(+) T cell activation. We showed previously that in a CD8(+) T cell hybridoma, nonstimulatory endogenous peptides enhance T cell sensitivity to antigen by increasing the coreceptor function of CD8. However, others were not able to detect such enhancement in naive and activated CD8(+) T cells. Here, we show that endogenous peptides substantially enhance the ability of T cells to detect antigen, an effect measurable by up-regulation of activation or maturation markers and by increased effector function. This enhancement is most pronounced in thymocytes, moderate in naive T cells, and mild in effector T cells. The importance of endogenous peptides is inversely proportional to the agonist activity of the stimulatory peptide presented. Unlike for CD4(+) T cells, the T cell receptor of CD8(+) T cells does not distinguish between endogenous peptides for their ability to enhance antigen recognition.