We describe an HLA-A1 melanoma patient who has mounted a spontaneous cytolytic T cell (CTL) response against an antigenic peptide encoded by gene MAGE-A3 and presented by HLA-A1. The frequency of anti-MAGE-3.A1 CTLp was 5 x 10(-7) of the blood CD8 cells, with a dominant clonotype which was present in six out of seven independent anti-MAGE-3.A1 CTL clones. After vaccination with a recombinant poxvirus coding for the MAGE-3.A1 antigen, the blood frequency of anti-MAGE-3.A1 CTLp increased tenfold. Twenty-two independent CTL clones were derived. Surprisingly, only one of them corresponded to the dominant clonotype present before vaccination. Two new clonotypes were repeated 12 and 7 times, respectively. Our interpretation of these results is that the spontaneous anti-MAGE-3.A1 CTL response pre-existing to vaccination was polyclonal, and that the vaccine restimulated only some of these clones. To estimate the incidence of spontaneous anti-MAGE-3.A1 CTL responses in melanoma patients with a tumor expressing gene MAGE-A3, we measured the blood frequency of anti-MAGE-3.A1 T cells in 45 patients, and found only two clear responses.