The E3/19K protein of human adenovirus type 2 binds to HLA class I antigens and blocks their terminal glycosylation and cell surface expression. The nature of this interaction is non-covalent and involves neither disulfide bridges between the two molecules nor their carbohydrates. The murine H-2 Kd antigen associates with the E3/19K protein in a similar fashion to human HLA antigens whereas the allelic product H-2 Kk does not. Hybrid genes between the Kd and Kk alleles were constructed and their products were expressed in embryonic kidney cells together with the E3/19K protein. This allowed us to identify the alpha 1 and alpha 2 domains as the essential structures of the histocompatibility antigens for binding the viral protein. Interestingly, these domains are also crucial for T cell recognition. The implications for the evolution of adenoviruses and their ability to cause persistent infections are discussed.