Four T cell determinants in the major capsid protein of human papillomavirus (HPV) type 16 L1 and one in the E6 protein associated with cellular transformation were defined using synthetic peptides to stimulate peripheral blood mononuclear cells from asymptomatic individuals. HLA-DR restriction was defined using murine L cells transfected with HLA-DR genes to present antigen. Responses to two of the five determinants by T cell lines and clones were shown to be specific for HPV-16 based on the lack of cross-recognition of the corresponding sequences of other known papillomavirus sequences (types 1a, 5, 6b, 8, 11, 18 and 33). The T cells raised against two of the other peptides cross-reacted with corresponding peptides from other strains to varying extents, depending on their structural homology. The implications of these results regarding the prevalence of HPV-16 infection in the population and the possible diagnostic role of these responses in papillomavirus infection is discussed.