Freshly separated unfractionated peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) and cloned cell lines from a healthy human immunodeficiency virus 1 (HIV-1)-seropositive individual were examined for cytotoxic responses to HIV proteins expressed by recombinant vaccinia viruses. It was found that freshly isolated PBMC recognize variant envelope proteins of HIV-1 but not a more distantly related envelope protein derived from the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIVmac). Although the effector cells were predominantly CD8+, both MHC-matched and -unmatched target cells were lysed. Cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) clones were found to lyse cells expressing HIV-1 envelope or reverse transcriptase. In contrast to the cytotoxic response detected with PBMC, the cloned CTLs were major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I restricted. Our finding that a cloned CTL line lysed cells expressing highly divergent HIV envelopes strongly suggested that a conserved epitope was recognized. Identification of these shared epitopes may assist in designing a vaccine for HIV-1 that could stimulate MHC-restricted cytotoxic responses.