The uveitogenicity of several protein fractions of the bovine retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) was studied in Lewis rats, and a major pathogenic fraction was selected. Fresh RPE cells were carefully isolated and purified in order to minimize the presence of rod outer segments (ROS). The buffer-insoluble part of the cells was extracted by Triton X-100. Most uveitogenicity was found in the Triton-insoluble pigment and cytoskeleton-containing fraction of RPE (RPE-TI). The S-antigen and opsin contents of RPE-TI were too low to induce an inflammatory response, while transducin, IRBP and cGMP-phosphodiesterase were absent. Hence, a hitherto unknown uveitogenic RPE protein, called PEP-X, evoked the pathogenic response. A typical dose-dependent experimental autoimmune anterior uveitis (EAAU) developed when the rats were immunized with RPE-TI. Initially, mononuclear cells infiltrated the anterior segment. In subsequent severe stages polymorphonuclear cells predominated in the anterior chamber. EAAU differed in particular from the known forms of EAU induced by photoreceptor proteins in that the inflammation remained exclusively anterior and the photoreceptor cells and the pineal gland were not affected. In immunized rats the immune responses to ROS proteins were very low. In contrast, there were consistently high cellular and humoral immune responses to RPE-TI. As in experimental autoimmune (uveo)retinitis (EAU), the development of EAAU could be inhibited by cyclosporin treatment indicating T-cell-dependency. A combination of histopathological, immunological and biochemical results indicates that PEP-X is an intrinsic RPE protein that is highly pathogenic. In view of its characteristics, EAAU may be a valuable model for human acute anterior uveitis, the most prevalent form of uveitis.