Marked decreases in influenza (flu) and tetanus toxoid (T.T.) antigen specific CD8(+) and CD4(+) T cell memory responses were noted shortly after SIV infection in monkeys that go on to develop clinical disease within 18 months (normal progressor, NP) following SIV infection but not in monkeys that remain asymptomatic >3 years post SIV infection (long-term nonprogressor, LTNP). While PBMCs from NP and LTNP monkeys demonstrate both low and high avidity flu and T.T. specific CD8(+) and CD4(+)T cell immune responses prior to SIV infection, the PBMCs from NP but not LTNP fail to generate high avidity T cell responses post SIV infection. This failure to generate high avidity T cell responses in vitro correlated with increased apoptotic cell death in PBMC cultures from NP animals. Since high avidity antigen specific CTLs have been shown to be most efficient in eliminating viral infections, the present finding has important implications for the evaluation of the level of immune reconstitution following various modalities of therapy in HIV-1 infected patients.