NK cells express several families of receptors that play central roles in target cell recognition. These NK cell receptors are also expressed by certain memory phenotype CD8+ T cells, and in some cases are up-regulated in T cells responding to viral infection. To determine how the profile of NK receptor expression changes in murine CD8+ T cells as they respond to intracellular pathogens, we used class 1 tetramer reagents to directly examine Ag-specific T cells during lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus and Listeria monocytogenes infections. We found that the majority of pathogen-specific CD8+ T cells initiated expression of the inhibitory CD94/NKG2A heterodimer, the KLRG1 receptor, and a novel murine NK cell marker (10D7); conversely, very few Ag-specific T cells expressed Ly49 family members. The up-regulation of these receptors was independent of IL-15 and persisted long after clearance of the pathogen. The expression of CD94/NKG2A was rapidly initiated in naive CD8+ T cells responding to peptide Ags in vitro and on many of the naive T cells that proliferate when transferred into lymphopenic (Rag-1-/-) hosts. Thus, CD94/NKG2A expression is a common consequence of CD8+ T cell activation. Binding of the CD94/NKG2A receptor by its ligand (Qa-Ib) did not significantly inhibit CD8+ T cell effector functions. However, expression of CD94 and NKG2A transgenes partially inhibited early events of T cell activation. These subtle effects suggest that CD94/NKG2A-mediated inhibition of T cells may be limited to particular circumstances or may synergize with other receptors that are similarly up-regulated.