The feasibility of using T cell receptor (TcR) antagonist peptides to inhibit autoimmune disease has been examined. First, the fine antigenic structure of the I-As-restricted encephalitogenic determinant proteolipid protein (PLP) 139-151 has been analyzed. It was found that residues 145 and 148 were I-As anchor residues, and residue 144 appeared to be especially critical in T cell activation. Residues 142, 143, 146, and 147 were found to be crucial for activation of some, but not all, of the T cells studied. Next, good I-As-binding nonantigenic analogs were tested for TcR antagonism. Accordingly, several single substitution analogs were identified which could act as TcR antagonists. Moreover, when two such analogs were combined, the resulting TcR antagonist pool inhibited most of the PLP 139-151-specific T cell clones in vitro. When the efficacy of this TcR antagonist pool in inhibiting EAE induction in vivo was examined, it was found that the analog pool was a remarkably potent inhibitor of disease induction. The TcR antagonist pool was approximately 10-fold more potent than our best major histocompatibility complex blocker and was still capable of significant inhibition when injected in equimolar amounts with the encephalitogenic PLP 139-151 determinant.