It is many years since the general population has been vaccinated against smallpox virus. Here, we report that human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I restricted T cell epitopes can be recognized more than 30 years after vaccination. Using bioinformatic methods, we predicted 177 potential cytotoxic T lymphocyte epitopes. Eight epitopes were confirmed to stimulate IFN-gamma release by T cells in smallpox-vaccinated subjects. The epitopes were restricted by five supertypes (HLA-A1, -A2, -A24 -A26 and -B44). Significant T cell responses were detected against 8 of 45 peptides with an HLA class I affinity of K(D) less than or equal to 5 nM, whereas no T cell responses were detected against 60 peptides with an HLA affinity of K(D) more than 5 nM. All epitopes were fully conserved in seven variola, vaccinia and cowpox strains. Knowledge of the long-term response to smallpox vaccination may lead to a better understanding of poxvirus immunity and may aid in the development of new improved vaccines and diagnostic tools.