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To analyse the immune correlates in a setting of recurrent exposure to hepatitis C virus (HCV), we studied T(CD8) responses in injecting drug users (IDUs) with different disease outcomes. Ex vivo HCV-specific T(CD8) responses assessed by interferon-gamma (IFNgamma) enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISPOT) were comparable in human lymphocyte antigen (HLA)-matched IDUs with spontaneous HCV clearance or persistent infection. A detailed characterization of these T(CD8) cells in age and HLA-matched IDUs demonstrated that HCV clearance and protection from reinfection correlated with HCV-specific T(CD8) cells that could proliferate in vitro, possessed cytotoxic potential and produced IFNgamma and tumour-necrosis factor-alpha, rather than with the circulating frequency of responding T(CD8) cells determined ex vivo. While validating the importance of multifunctional T(CD8) in mediating protection in IDUs with recurrent exposure to HCV our findings highlight that the magnitude and/or breadth of HCV-specific T(CD8) determined in ex vivo ELISPOT may not be the sole determinant of protection especially in a setting of recurrent exposure.