Standard synthetic peptide preparations contain numerous peptidic byproducts in small amounts, which may be efficiently recognized by cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL). Recognition patterns of such peptide mixtures by CTL may serve as a kind of fingerprint for CTL fine specificity. Three types of H-2Db-restricted CTL were compared in this way. CTL primed in vivo either with A/PR/8/34 influenza virus or with a synthetic lipopeptide vaccine prepared from influenza nucleoprotein (NP) peptide 365-380 showed identical fine specificity. Both recognize virus-infected cells. In contrast, CTL primed in vitro with NP 365-380 had a different fine specificity and they did not recognize virus-infected cells. Most significantly, the two in vivo primed CTL types efficiently recognized the natural viral nonapeptide NP 366-374 presented by virus-infected H-2b cells, whereas the in vitro primed CTL failed to do so.