Chronic relapsing paralysis and demyelination within the central nervous system (CNS), features associated with the human disease multiple sclerosis (MS), develop in mice after injection of murine T-cell clones specific for the autoantigen myelin basic protein (MBP). We examined the fine specificity of three independently derived encephalitogenic T-cell clones using synthetic polypeptides derived from portions of the N-terminal sequence of MBP. These clones appear functionally identical; they all respond to an epitope in the N-terminal nine amino acid residues in association with the same class II (I-A) molecules of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). Both the N-terminal acetyl moiety and the first residue (Ala) are necessary for recognition. Only N-terminal MBP peptides recognized by these clones were found to cause encephalomyelitis (EAE) in vivo. These results show that the N-terminal MBP-specific T lymphocytes that mediate autoimmune encephalomyelitis are a small population with a limited repertoire; they all recognise the same combination of MHC and target.