Virus specific, major histocompatibility complex-restricted, cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) generated in Fischer strain rats infected with human adenovirus type 5 (Ad5) were found to recognize antigenic determinants encoded within the Ad5 early region 1A (E1A) gene. Preliminary mapping studies suggest that the E1A CTL epitopes are encoded within the regions between bp 625 to 810 and 916 to 974 in the first exon of this gene. These epitope-coding regions occur within subregions of E1A that are conserved functionally, and to some extent structurally (approximately 50% sequence homology), among adenoviruses of different groups. Nevertheless, Ad5-specific CTL lysed only targets infected with adenoviruses of the same group (group C; e.g., Ad2) and not targets infected with adenoviruses of different groups (groups A, B, and E). These results suggest that virus-specific CTL may limit adenoviral dissemination by destroying virus-infected cells at an early stage in the viral replicative cycle, during E1A gene expression. Expression of other adenovirus genes does not appear to be required to target infected cells for elimination by CTL.