Type I IFNs, including IFN-alpha, enhance Ag presentation and promote the expansion, survival, and effector function of CD8(+) CTL during viral infection. Because these are ideal characteristics for a vaccine adjuvant, we examined the efficacy and mechanism of exogenous IFN-alpha as an adjuvant for antimelanoma peptide vaccination. We studied the expansion of pmel-1 transgenic CD8(+) T cells specific for the gp100 melanocyte differentiation Ag after vaccination of mice with gp100(25-33) peptide in IFA. IFN-alpha synergized with peptide vaccination in a dose-dependent manner by boosting relative and absolute numbers of gp100-specific T cells that suppressed B16 melanoma growth. IFN-alpha dramatically increased the accumulation of gp100-specific, IFN-gamma-secreting, CD8(+) T cells in the tumor through reduced apoptosis and enhanced proliferation of Ag-specific CD8(+) T cells. IFN-alpha treatment also greatly increased the long-term maintenance of pmel-1 CD8(+) T cells with an effector memory phenotype, a process that required expression of IFN-alpha receptor on the T cells and IL-15 in the host. These results demonstrate the efficacy of IFN-alpha as an adjuvant for peptide vaccination, give insight into its mechanism of action, and provide a rationale for clinical trials in which vaccination is combined with standard-of-care IFN-alpha therapy for melanoma.