Hyperactivation of T cells, particularly of CD8(+) T cells, is a hallmark of chronic HIV 1 (HIV-1) infection. Little is known about the antigenic specificities and the mechanisms by which HIV-1 causes activation of CD8(+) T cells during chronic infection. We report that CD8(+) T cells were activated during in vivo HIV-1 replication irrespective of their Ag specificity. Cytokines present during untreated HIV-1 infection, most prominently IL-15, triggered proliferation and expression of activation markers in CD8(+) T cells, but not CD4(+) T cells, in the absence of TCR stimulation. Moreover, LPS or HIV-1-activated dendritic cells (DCs) stimulated CD8(+) T cells in an IL-15-dependent but Ag-independent manner, and IL-15 expression was highly increased in DCs isolated from viremic HIV-1 patients, suggesting that CD8(+) T cells are activated by inflammatory cytokines in untreated HIV-1 patients independent of Ag specificity. This finding contrasts with CD4(+) T cells whose in vivo activation seems biased toward specificities for persistent Ags. These observations explain the higher abundance of activated CD8(+) T cells compared with CD4(+) T cells in untreated HIV-1 infection.