The human pathogen CMV, is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in immunocompromised hosts. The CD8+ class I-restricted CTL response to CMV assists in preventing progression of CMV infection to life-threatening disease; however, the viral Ag recognized by CD8+ CTL are not well characterized. In general, virus-specific CTL recognize endogenously synthesized viral proteins processed and presented associated with class I MHC molecules. Although proteins or inactivated virions have been experimentally delivered to the cytoplasm to result in class I MHC presentation, this mode of Ag delivery to the class I processing pathway after natural viral entry has not been documented in humans. Our data demonstrate that the CMV-specific class I-restricted CTL response in individuals latently infected with CMV is predominantly specific for selected structural virion proteins introduced into the cell after viral penetration and efficient recognition occurs in the absence of de novo viral gene expression. This CTL response may provide a biological advantage for limiting the spread of infection after CMV reactivation because infected cells are lysed before viral assembly.