Recent studies using MHC class I tetramers have shown that CD8(+) T cell responses against different persistent viruses vary considerably in magnitude and phenotype. At one extreme, hepatitis C virus (HCV)-specific CD8(+) T cell responses in blood are generally weak and have a phenotype that is perforin low and CCR7 high (early memory). At the other, specific responses to CMV are strong, perforin high, and CCR7 low (mature or effector memory). To examine the potential mechanisms behind this diversity, we compared CMV-specific responses in HCV-infected and healthy individuals. We find a striking difference in the phenotype of CMV-specific CD8(+) T cells between these groups. In the HCV-infected cohort, CMV-specific CD8(+) T cells lost markers associated with maturity; they had increased expression of CCR7 and reduced expression of Fas and perforin. They nevertheless responded to Ag in vitro in a manner similar to controls, with strong proliferation and appropriate acquisition of effector memory markers. The reduction in mature CD8 T cells in HCV-infected individuals may arise through either impairment or regulation of T cell stimulation, or through the early loss of mature T cells. Whatever the mechanism, HCV has a pervasive influence on the circulating CD8(+) T cell population, a novel feature that may be a hallmark of this infection.