Recent progress has begun to define the interactions and signaling pathways that are triggered during positive selection. To identify and further examine self-peptides that can mediate positive selection, we searched a protein-database to find peptides that have minimal homology with the viral peptide (p33) that activates a defined P14 transgenic TCR. We identified four peptides that could bind the restriction element H-2D(b) and induce proliferation of P14 transgenic splenocytes at high concentration. Two of the four peptides (DBM and RPP) were able to positively select the virus-specific TCR in fetal thymic organ culture but were unable to induce clonal deletion. Reverse-phase HPLC and mass spectrometry demonstrated that these peptides were presented by H-2D(b) molecules on thymic epithelial cell lines. We also examined whether the selecting ligands altered T cell responsiveness in vitro. DBM-selected T cells lost their ability to respond to the positively selecting ligand DBM, whereas RPP-selected T cells only retained their ability to respond to high concentrations of RPP. These results demonstrate that self-peptides that mediate positive selection can differentially "tune" the activation threshold of T cells and alter the functional repertoire of T cells.