Heat shock protein (HSP) preparations derived from cancer cells and virus-infected cells have been shown previously to elicit cancer-specific or virus-specific immunity. The immunogenicity of HSP preparations has been attributed to peptides associated with the HSPs. The studies reported here demonstrate that immunogenic HSP-peptide complexes can also be reconstituted in vitro. The studies show that (a) complexes of hsp70 or gp96 HSP molecules with a variety of synthetic peptides can be generated in vitro; (b) the binding of HSPs with peptides is specific in that a number of other proteins tested do not bind synthetic peptides under the conditions in which gp96 molecules do; (c) HSP-peptide complexes reconstituted in vitro are immunologically active, as tested by their ability to elicit antitumor immunity and specific CD8+ cytolytic T lymphocyte response; and (d) synthetic peptides reconstituted in vitro with gp96 are capable of being taken up and re-presented by macrophage in the same manner as gp96- peptides complexes generated in vivo. These observations demonstrate that HSPs are CD8+ T cell response-eliciting adjuvants.