The first step in the induction of immune responses, whether humoral or cell mediated, requires the interaction between antigen-presenting cells and T lymphocytes restricted at the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). These cells invariably express MHC class II molecules (HLA-D region in man and Ia in mouse) which are recognized by T cells of the helper/inducer subset in association with antigen fragments. Interestingly, in certain pathological conditions, for example in autoimmune diseases such as thyroiditis and diabetic insulitis, class II molecules may be expressed on epithelial cells that normally do not express them. We speculated that these cells may be able to present their surface autoantigens to T cells, and that this process may be crucial to the induction and maintenance of autoimmunity. A critical test of this hypothesis would be to determine whether epithelial cells bearing MHC class II molecules (class II+ cells) can present antigen to T cells. We report here that class II+ thyroid follicular epithelial cells (thyrocytes) can indeed present viral peptide antigens to cloned human T cells.