CTL lines have now been generated against defined peptides of a range of human tumor-associated antigens (TAAs). One of the potential uses of these epitope-specific CTLs is in adoptive transfer immunotherapy. This is a modality, however, that will require long-term in vitro culture of CTLs. To date, little has been reported concerning the phenotypic stability of human epitope-specific CTLs as a consequence of long-term in vitro propagation via peptide stimulation. We report here the serial phenotypic characterization of a CTL line directed against an immunodominant epitope (YLSGANLNL, designated CAP-1) of human carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA). This CTL line was derived from peripheral blood mononuclear cells of a patient with metastatic carcinoma who had been treated with a recombinant CEA-vaccinia vaccine in a Phase I trial; the CTLs were analyzed through 20 in vitro cycle passages of stimulation with CAP-1 peptide and interleukin 2 in the presence of autologous antigen-presenting cells. The CTL line was shown to be phenotypically stable in terms of high levels of cytokine (IFN-gamma, tumor necrosis factor, and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor) production, expression of homing-adhesion molecules, ability to lyse peptide-pulsed targets, and ability to lyse human carcinoma cells endogenously expressing CEA in a MHC-restricted manner. Vbeta T-cell receptor gene usage was also analyzed. These studies thus present a rationale for the use of long-term cultured epitope-specific human CTLs, directed against a human TAA for potential adoptive transfer immunotherapy protocols.