A five amino acids-long sequence (GPPAA) in the region of the 57th amino acid of HLA-DQ8 beta chain, which seems to be important in defining the risk for type 1 diabetes, occurs also in the BERF4-encoded EBNA3C protein of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) in six successive repeats. The antigenicity of this region was analysed using synthetic peptides containing different modifications of the GPPAA sequence. Two of the seven individuals who had acute EBV infection produced antibodies against an EBV-derived peptide (GPPAAGPPAAGPPAA) paralleling the EBNA2 antibodies. These two cases also contracted type 1 diabetes immediately after the infection. High antibody levels against this peptide were found in a total of 12% of EBV+ individuals, and in most cases antibodies remained at high levels for several years. Human sera as well as affinity-purified antibodies specific for the GPPAAGPPAAGPPAA peptide reacted also with shorter peptide analogues (GPPAAGPPAA and GPPAA), as well as with peptides containing the surrounding motifs from DQ8 beta chains. However, none of these antibodies bound to denatured DQ8 beta chains in immunoblotting. The charge of the 57th amino acid modulated the antigenicity of this epitope, as peptides from Asp-57-negative DQ molecules were reactive, while peptides from Asp-57-positive DQ molecules were not. The responsiveness was seen in both HLA-DQ8-positive and -negative subjects as well as in type 1 diabetic individuals. The results suggest that some individuals who carry the GPPAA sequence in their HLA-DQ molecule recognize this epitope in EBV. This phenomenon may have potential importance in EBV-induced immune abnormalities, although cross-reactivity against DQ molecules could not be demonstrated in the present study.