Mice vaccinated with a live temperature sensitive mutant (TS-4) of Toxoplasma gondii develop complete resistance to subsequent challenge with a highly virulent Toxoplasma strain (RH). Because CD8+ T cells have been demonstrated to be critical to this protective immunity in vivo, the involvement of cytotoxic T lymphocytes in the killing of infected cells in vaccinated mice was investigated. After restimulation in vitro, splenic T cells from vaccinated mice of either the BALB/c or C57BL/6 strains were found to kill syngeneic bone marrow-derived macrophages infected with TS-4 tachyzoites or preincubated with soluble T. gondii Ag. Unimmunized control mice or mice vaccinated with heat-killed TS-4 tachyzoites failed to generate significant CTL activity in vitro. Moreover, the observed lytic reaction was found to be target specific, not killing uninfected or unpulsed macrophages even when included as bystanders in the assay. Target lysis did not depend on the production by the effector cells of either a cytotoxic supernatant factor or IFN-gamma. Depletion of CD8+ cells from the splenic effector cell population, however, abrogated the cytotoxic activity, whereas depletion of CD4+ cells had little effect. The MHC restriction of the Toxoplasma-specific cytolytic reaction was confirmed in studies using effector cells from BALB/c mice and targets from congenic or mutant haplotype strains. These experiments indicated that target killing is primarily restricted by genes mapping within the H-2D/Ld loci. Together, these results establish MHC-restricted cytolysis as a major parameter of CD8+ effector function against T. gondii and indicate that, in the case of this protozoan, Ag presentation to CD8+ lymphocytes can occur as a result of either processing within infected cells or exogenous uptake of parasite Ag.