Since the number of human cases of infection with avian H5N1 influenza viruses is ever increasing, a pandemic outbreak caused by these viruses is feared. Therefore, in addition to virus-specific antibodies, there is considerable interest in immune correlates of protection against these viruses, which could be a target for the development of more universal vaccines. After infection with seasonal influenza A viruses of the H3N2 and H1N1 subtypes, individuals develop virus-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocyte responses, which are mainly directed against the relatively conserved internal proteins of the virus, like the nucleoprotein (NP). Virus-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) are known to contribute to protective immunity against infection, but knowledge about the extent of cross-reactivity with avian H5N1 influenza viruses is sparse. In the present study, we evaluated the cross-reactivity with H5N1 influenza viruses of polyclonal CTL obtained from a group of well-defined HLA-typed study subjects. To this end, the recognition of synthetic peptides representing H5N1 analogues of known CTL epitopes was studied. In addition, the ability of CTL specific for seasonal H3N2 influenza virus to recognize the NP of H5N1 influenza virus or H5N1 virus-infected cells was tested. It was concluded that, apart from some individual epitopes that displayed amino acid variation between H3N2 and H5N1 influenza viruses, considerable cross-reactivity exists with H5N1 viruses. This preexisting cross-reactive T-cell immunity in the human population may dampen the impact of a next pandemic.