SIVmac239 infection of rhesus macaques (RMs) results in AIDS despite the generation of a strong antiviral cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) response, possibly due to the emergence of viral escape mutants that prevent recognition of infected cells by CTLs. To determine the anatomic origin of these SIV mutants, we longitudinally assessed the presence of CTL escape variants in two MamuA*01-restricted immunodominant epitopes (Tat-SL8 and Gag-CM9) in the plasma, PBMCs, lymph nodes (LN), and rectal biopsies (RB) of fifteen SIVmac239-infected RMs. As expected, Gag-CM9 did not exhibit signs of escape before day 84 post infection. In contrast, Tat-SL8 escape mutants were apparent in all tissues by day 14 post infection. Interestingly LNs and plasma exhibited the highest level of escape at day 14 and day 28 post infection, respectively, with the rate of escape in the RB remaining lower throughout the acute infection. The possibility that CTL escape occurs in LNs before RBs is confirmed by the observation that the specific mutants found at high frequency in LNs at day 14 post infection became dominant at day 28 post infection in plasma, PBMC, and RB. Finally, the frequency of escape mutants in plasma at day 28 post infection correlated strongly with the level Tat-SL8-specific CD8 T cells in the LN and PBMC at day 14 post infection. These results indicate that LNs represent the primary source of CTL escape mutants during the acute phase of SIVmac239 infection, suggesting that LNs are the main anatomic sites of virus replication and/or the tissues in which CTL pressure is most effective in selecting SIV escape variants. © 2011 Vanderford et al.