This report investigates the generation of cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) by in vivo administration of a synthetic antigen linked to a lipid moiety, tripalmitoyl-S-glyceryl cysteine (P3C). The antigen consisted of a 17-mer peptide, derived from the gp120 envelope protein of the human immunodeficiency virus type-1 (HIV-1), in a tetravalent multiple antigenic peptide (MAP) configuration. A single injection of MAP-P3C elicited a long-lasting CTL response in mice. The route of administration was not a determining factor, since intravenous (i.v.) and intraperitoneal (i.p.) priming were both effective. The HIV strain-specific cytotoxic lymphocytes were of the CD8+ subset and class I restricted. A broad cytolytic activity could be achieved by priming with a mixture of homologous peptides from gp120 IIIB and MN strains. Following the administration of the monoclonal antibody GK1.5, resulting in the depletion of the CD4+ T-lymphocyte subpopulation, mice were able to mount a strong CTL response. This finding demonstrates that in priming with a peptide antigen covalently linked to a lipid, such as MAP-P3C, CD4+ cells are not required for the generation of CD8+ cytotoxicity. In contrast, the elimination of macrophages by the carrageenan pretreatment caused suppression of the T-cell lytic activity, suggesting a substantial contribution of the phagocytic cells in mounting CTL response. Taken together, these results may lead to new strategies in designing a human immunodeficiency virus type-1 (HIV-1) vaccine based on synthetic peptides.