Most cellular interactions essential for the development of an immune response involve the membrane glycoproteins encoded in the major histocompatibility gene complex. The products of the I region, the class II histocompatibility molecules (Ia molecules), are essential for accessory cells such as macrophages to present polypeptide antigens to helper T cells. This interaction, antigen presentation, is needed for T-cell recognition of the antigen and its consequent activation. How the Ia molecules regulate the immune response during antigen presentation is not known, although it is commonly thought to result from their association with the presented antigen. Recent studies, including the elucidation of the structure of the T-cell receptor, favour recognition of a single structure, an antigen-Ia complex. Here we report attempts to determine whether purified Ia glycoproteins have an affinity for polypeptide antigens presented by intact cells in an Ia-restricted manner. We first identified the epitope of a peptide antigen involved in presentation. Several laboratories have shown that globular proteins are altered (processed) in intracellular vesicles of the antigen-presenting cell before antigen presentation. A major component of the T-cell response is directed toward determinants found in the unfolded or denatured molecule, and our laboratory has shown that the determinant of the hen-egg lysozyme protein (HEL), presented in H-2k mice to T cells, is a sequence of only 10 amino acids. This portion resides in an area of the native molecule partially buried inside the molecule, in a beta-sheet conformation. To be presented, intact or native HEL must first be processed in acidic intracellular vesicles. Having isolated the peptide responsible for T-cell recognition of HEL, we sought a physical association of this peptide with purified, detergent-solubilized I-Ak molecules from B-hybridoma cells. We have found such an association, which may explain the role of the Ia glycoproteins in cellular interactions.