The T-cell receptor is a cell surface heterodimer consisting of an alpha and a beta chain that binds foreign antigen in the context of a cell surface molecule encoded by the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), thus restricting the T-cell response to the surface of antigen presenting cells. The variable (V) domain of the receptor binds antigen and MHC molecules and is composed of distinct regions encoded by separate gene elements--variable (V alpha and V beta), diversity (D beta) and joining (J alpha and J beta)--rearranged and joined during T-cell differentiation to generate contiguous V alpha and V beta genes. T-helper cells, which facilitate T and B cell responses, bind antigen in the context of a class II MHC molecule. The helper T-cell response to cytochrome c in mice is a well-defined model for studying the T-cell response to restricted antigen and MHC determinants. Only mice expressing certain class II molecules can respond to this antigen (Ek alpha Ek beta, Ek alpha Eb beta, Ev alpha Ev beta and Ek alpha Es beta). Most T cells appear to recognize the C-terminal peptide of cytochrome c (residues 81-104 in pigeon cytochrome c). We have raised helper T cells to pigeon cytochrome c or its C-terminal peptide analogues in four different MHC congenic strains of mice encoding each of the four responding class II molecules. We have isolated and sequenced seven V alpha genes and six V beta genes and analysed seven additional helper T cells by Northern blot to compare the structure of the V alpha and V beta gene segments with their antigen and MHC specificities. We have added five examples taken from the literature. These data show that a single V alpha gene segment is responsible for a large part of the response of mice to cytochrome c but there is no simple correlation of MHC restriction with gene segment use.