There is considerable interest in designing an effective vaccine to the ubiquitous Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). An important role for EBV-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) in eliminating virus-infected cells is well established. Limited studies using a small number of immune donors have defined target epitopes within the latent antigens of EBV. The present study provides an extensive analysis of the distribution of class I-restricted CTL epitopes within EBV-encoded proteins. Using recombinant vaccinia encoding individual EBV latent antigens (Epstein-Barr nuclear antigen [EBNA] 1, 2, 3A, 3B, 3C, LP, and LMP 1), we have successfully localized target epitopes recognized by CTL clones from a panel of 14 EBV-immune donors. Of the 20 CTL epitopes localized, five were defined at the peptide level. Although CTL clones specific for nine epitopes recognized both type 1 and type 2 transformants, a significant number of epitopes (7/16 epitopes for which EBV type specificity was determined) were detected only on type 1 EBV transformants. Vaccinia recombinants encoding EBNA 3A and EBNA 3C were recognized more frequently than any other vaccinia recombinants used in this study, while no CTL epitopes were localized in EBNA 1. Surprisingly, epitope specificity for a large number of EBV-specific CTL clones could not be localized, although vaccinia recombinants used in this study encoded most of the latent antigens of EBV. These results suggest that any EBV vaccine based on CTL epitopes designed to provide widespread protection will need to include not only latent antigen sequences but also other regions of the genome. The apparent inability of human CTLs to recognize EBNA 1 as a target antigen, often the only latent antigen expressed in Burkitt's lymphoma and nasopharyngeal carcinoma, suggests that EBV-specific CTL control of these tumors will not be feasible unless the down-regulation of latent antigens can be reversed.