The extent to which naive CD8(+) CTLs (T(CD8)(+)) are primed by APCs presenting endogenous Ags (direct priming) or Ags acquired from other infected cells (cross-priming) is a critical topic in basic and applied immunology. To examine the contribution of direct priming in the induction of VV-specific T(CD8)(+), we generated recombinant vaccinia viruses that express human CMV proteins (US2 and US11) that induce the destruction of newly synthesized MHC class I molecules. Expression of US2 or US11 was associated with a 24-63% decrease in numbers of primary or secondary VV-specific T(CD8)(+) responding to i.p. infection. Using HPLC-isolated peptides from VV-infected cells, we show that US2 and US11 selectively inhibit T(CD8)(+) responses to a subset of immunogenic VV determinants. Moreover, VV-US2 and lysates from VV-infected histoincompatible cells elicit T(CD8)(+) specific for a similar subset of VV determinants. These findings indicate that US2 and US11 can function in vivo to interfere with the activation of virus-specific T(CD8)(+). Furthermore, they suggest that 1) both cross-priming and direct priming contribute significantly to the generation of VV-specific T(CD8)(+), 2) the sets of immunogenic vaccinia virus determinants generated by cross-priming and direct priming are not completely overlapping, and 3) cross-priming overrides the effects of cis-acting viral interference with the class I Ag presentation pathway.