The ability of a saponin adjuvant, QS-21, to induce OVA-specific, class I MHC Ag-restricted CTL was investigated using different forms of soluble OVA and OVA adsorbed onto alum as immunogens. C57BL/6 mice were immunized with soluble native or denatured OVA in formulations that contained increasing quantities of QS-21, and CTL responses were measured using EL4 and E.G7-OVA cells as targets and splenic mononuclear cells as effectors. Ag-specific CTL responses were produced but only if the QS-21 adjuvant was used. Similar responses were induced using alum-adsorbed OVA when mixed with the QS-21 adjuvant but not when used alone. The CTL were specific for an epitope present on the OVA258-276 synthetic peptide, which contains the dominant CTL epitope recognized by C57BL/6 mice. The CD8+ subpopulation of lymphocytes in immune mice was not increased in spleens but increased significantly in vitro after culture with soluble OVA. The CTL activity of splenic mononuclear cell preparations was totally destroyed by treatment with mAb specific to the CD8 Ag plus complement. The ability of the QS-21 adjuvant to induce class I MHC Ag-restricted CTL after immunization with soluble proteins is a characteristic unique to saponin adjuvants.