A diverse T cell repertoire is essential for a vigorous immune response to new infections, and decreasing repertoire diversity has been implicated in the age-associated decline in CD8 T cell immunity. In this study, using the well-characterized mouse influenza virus model, we show that although comparable numbers of CD8 T cells are elicited in the lung and lung airways of young and aged mice after de novo infection, a majority of aged mice exhibit profound shifts in epitope immunodominance and restricted diversity in the TCR repertoire of responding cells. A preferential decline in reactivity to viral epitopes with a low naive precursor frequency was observed, in some cases leading to "holes " in the T cell repertoire. These effects were also seen in young thymectomized mice, consistent with the role of the thymus in maintaining naive repertoire diversity. Furthermore, a decline in repertoire diversity generally correlated with impaired responses to heterosubtypic challenge. This study formally demonstrates in a mouse infection model that naturally occurring contraction of the naive T cell repertoire can result in impaired CD8 T cell responses to known immunodominant epitopes and decline in heterosubtypic immunity. These observations have important implications for the design of vaccine strategies for the elderly. JEM © The Rockefeller University Press.