Peptide loading of MHC class I molecules involves multiple cofactors including tapasin. We showed previously in vitro that tapasin edits the peptide repertoire by favoring the binding of peptides with slow dissociation rates. Here, using tapasin-deficient mice and a DNA vaccine that primes directly, we confirm that tapasin establishes hierarchical responses in vivo according to peptide-MHC stability. In contrast, this hierarchy is lost when the peptides are cross-presented via an alternative DNA vaccine. By regulating transgene expression, we found that the dominant response modifier was antigen persistence. Our findings reveal strategies for activating T cells against low-affinity peptides, of potential importance for patients with repertoires narrowed by deletional tolerance.