Closely related peptide epitopes can be recognized by the same T cells and contribute to the immune response against pathogens encoding those epitopes, but sometimes cross-reactive epitopes share little homology. The degree of structural homology required for such disparate ligands to be recognized by cross-reactive TCRs remains unclear. In this study, we examined the mechanistic basis for cross-reactive T cell responses between epitopes from unrelated and pathogenic viruses, lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) and vaccinia virus. Our results show that the LCMV cross-reactive T cell response toward vaccinia virus is dominated by a shared asparagine residue, together with other shared structural elements conserved in the crystal structures of K(b)-VV-A11R and K(b)-LCMV-gp34. Based on analysis of the crystal structures and the specificity determinants for the cross-reactive T cell response, we were able to manipulate the degree of cross-reactivity of the T cell response, and to predict and generate a LCMV cross-reactive response toward a variant of a null OVA-derived peptide. These results indicate that protective heterologous immune responses can occur for disparate epitopes from unrelated viruses.