The acute phase of many viral infections is associated with the induction of a pronounced CD8 T cell response which plays a principle role in clearing the infection. By contrast, certain infections are not as readily controlled. In this study, we have used the well-defined system of lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) infection of mice to determine quantitative and qualitative changes in virus-specific CD8 T cell responses that rapidly resolve acute infections, more slowly control protracted infections, or fail to clear chronic infections. Acute LCMV infection elicits potent, functional, multi-epitope-specific CD8 T cell responses. Virus-specific CD8 T cells also expand, albeit to a lesser extent, during protracted LCMV infection. Under these conditions, there is a progressive diminution in the capacity to produce IL-2, TNF-α, and IFN-γ. Changes in cytotoxic activities are also detectable but differ depending upon the specificity of the responding cells. As the infection is slowly resolved, a resurgence of cytokine production by virus-specific CD8 T cells is observed. CD4-deficient mice cannot control infection with certain strains of LCMV, but do mount multi-epitope-specific CD8 T cell responses that also lose effector capabilites; however, they are not maintained indefinitely in an unresponsive state as these cells become deleted over time. Overall, our findings suggest that constant high viral loads result in the progressive diminution of T cell effector functions and subsequent physical loss of the responding cells, whereas if the viral load is brought under control a partial restoration of CD8 T cell functions can occur.