Complex synthetic peptide libraries with defined amino acids in one or more positions of the H-2Kb-restricted cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) epitopes SIINFEKL and RGYVYQGL and mixtures of 19 amino acids in the remaining positions were used to analyze the structural requirements of peptide binding to MHC class I molecules and antigen recognition by CTLs. This approach provides means to assess semiquantitatively the contribution of every amino acid to the binding of peptides to major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules without biases introduced by naturally processed peptides. Primary and secondary anchor residues were defined for their major contribution to the binding efficiency of the peptides. In contrast to primary anchors, secondary anchor amino acids vary greatly in their side chains and position in the sequences. All amino acids in the octapeptide sequences were found to exhibit positive or negative influences on binding to the MHC molecules and on recognition of the resulting complexes by CTLs. Strong interdependence of the effects of the individual residues in the epitope sequences was demonstrated. CTL responses to peptide libraries were suppressed when residues were introduced; however, they were augmented when the critical residues for T cell recognition were fixed, suggesting a potential use of the peptide libraries for defining epitope sequences in general.