The majority of untreated human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) type 1-infected individuals ultimately develop uncontrolled viremia and progressive disease. Cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) are known to play an important role in controlling HIV-1 replication, which has led to an increasing interest in augmenting conventional antiretroviral therapy with therapeutic vaccination. The successful development of a therapeutic vaccine will rely on the ability to correlate an aspect of the immune response with clinical outcome. In this study, the CD8+ T cell maturation status of antigen-specific cells in models of well and poorly controlled virus infections were compared, to show that a memory phenotype predominates when antigen loads are absent or low. In HIV-1 infection, the emergence of memory CD8+ T cells was found to occur only in individuals with highly suppressed viral replication for an extended duration. Such assessments of the immune response may provide a refined measure of virus control.