Experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE) is an induced autoimmune disease mediated by CD4+ T lymphocytes. Analysis of T cell receptors of myelin basic protein-specific encephalitogenic T cell clones derived from six different PL/J (H-2u) or (PL/J x SJL) F1 (H-2uxs) mice revealed a limited heterogeneity in primary structure. In vivo, the majority of T lymphocytes recognize the N-terminal MBP-nonapeptide in association with I-Au and utilize the V beta 8 gene element. cDNA-sequencing showed that all T cell receptors from a panel of such T cell clones, grown in vitro, share the same V alpha gene segment. Despite heterogeneity in the D-J regions, the clones unexpectedly display a striking similarity in fine specificity. Based on these results, prevention and reversal of autoimmune disease with V beta 8-specific monoclonal antibodies was achieved.