Adjuvant arthritis (AA) is induced by immunizing Lewis rats with Mycobacterium tuberculosis suspended in adjuvant. The mycobacterial 65-kDa heat shock protein (HSP65) contains at least one epitope associated with the pathogenesis of AA: T cell clones that recognize an epitope formed by aa 180-188 of HSP65 react with self-cartilage and can adoptively transfer AA. Nevertheless, vaccination with HSP65 or some of its T cell epitopes can prevent AA by a mechanism that seems to involve cross-reactivity with the self-60-kDa HSP60. We recently demonstrated that DNA vaccination with the human hsp60 gene can inhibit AA. In the present work, we searched for regulatory epitopes using DNA vaccination with HSP60 gene fragments. We now report that specific HSP60 DNA fragments can serve as effective vaccines. Using overlapping HSP60 peptides, we identified a regulatory peptide (Hu3) that was specifically recognized by the T cells of DNA-vaccinated rats. Vaccination with Hu3, or transfer of splenocytes from Hu3-vaccinated rats, inhibited the development of AA. Vaccination with the mycobacterial homologue of Hu3 had no effect. Effective DNA or peptide vaccination was associated with enhanced T cell proliferation to a variety of disease-associated Ags, along with a Th2/3-like shift (down-regulation of IFN-gamma secretion and enhanced secretion of IL-10 and/or tumor growth factor beta1) in response to peptide Mt176-190 (the 180-188 epitope of HSP65). The regulatory response to HSP60 or its Hu3 epitope included both Th1 (IFN-gamma) and Th2/3 (IL-10/tumor growth factor beta1) secretors. These results show that regulatory mechanisms can be activated by immunization with relevant self-HSP60 epitopes.