Reconstitution of protective immunity by adoptive transfer of pathogen-specific T cells has been successful in patients with compromised cellular immunity. The in vivo effectiveness of in vitro–expanded CD8 CTLs is variable, however. For example, adoptively transferred Listeria monocytogenes–specific CD8 CTLs only confer protective immunity if challenge infection occurs within 48 hours of T cell infusion. Herein we show that transferred CTLs persist in lymphoid compartments for many weeks, but that their response to bacterial challenge decreases during the first week following transfer. While T cells transferred less than 48 hours before infection proliferate, those transferred 7 days before infection die. Remarkably, treatment of mice with anti-CD40 at the time of T cell infusion reprograms transferred T cells, allowing them to proliferate and confer protective immunity upon bacterial challenge 7 days later. Our study demonstrates, for the first time to our knowledge that CD40-mediated stimuli can influence CD8 T cell activation independent of concurrent antigen exposure. The ability to modulate long-term responsiveness of CD8 T cells with a transient, nonspecific inflammatory stimulus has importation implications for adoptive immunotherapy.