The specificity of 18 monoclonal antibodies directed to tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) was studied by measuring their ability to bind to viral mutants, to other tobamoviruses, to dissociated viral subunits and to peptide fragments of the viral coat protein. The apparent binding specificity of the antibodies was dependent on the type of enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay used, probably because the antigens were disrupted or denatured when attached to the plastic surface of microtiter wells. The capacity of different monoclonal antibodies to detect single substitutions in the viral coat protein was used to delineate some of the topographic epitopes of TMV. By means of computer-generated images of the surface residues of the viral subunit, it was possible to identify certain clusters of residues involved in binding to some of the monoclonal antibodies. The results clearly illustrate the operational limitations encountered when monoclonal antibodies are used for elucidating the antigenic structure of proteins.