The adenovirus type 2 encoded protein E3/19K binds to human histocompatibility class I antigens (HLA). This association occurs both in adenovirus-infected cells and in cells that have been transfected with the gene encoding the E3/19K protein. The formation of the HLA-E3/19K complex prevents the HLA antigens from being correctly processed by inhibiting their terminal glycosylation. This effect is specific for HLA antigens and does not generally involve the glycosyltransferases. Furthermore, the HLA-E3/19K association dramatically reduces the cell surface expression of the HLA antigens. This reduced level of antigens might influence the cytotoxic T cell response. Therefore, our results show a possible molecular mechanism whereby adenoviruses, and perhaps other viruses, delay or escape the cellular immune system of the host.