We investigated the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I-restricted presentation of an epitope of the hepatitis B virus small surface (S) antigen particle to cloned murine cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL). Efficient Ld-restricted presentation of the S28-39 epitope to CTL is observed in cells of different tissue origin pulsed in vitro, either with the antigenic S28-39 12-mer S-peptide, or with particulate S-antigen. The kinetics of epitope presentation differ in S-peptide-pulsed and in S-particle-pulsed cells: while a 15-min pulse with the antigenic peptide sensitizes targets for class I-restricted CTL lysis, presentation of S-particles requires 30-60 min to sensitize cells for CTL lysis. Uptake of antigenic material and active metabolism of the presenting cell are required for processing of S-particles, but not for sensitizing targets with S-peptides. Intracellular processing and presentation of S-particles is blocked in cells treated with chloroquine, NH4Cl, primaquine, or leupeptin, but not by treatment with cycloheximide or brefeldin A. This processing pathway operates efficiently in peptide-transporter-deficient, Ld-transfected T2 cells, revealing a novel endosomal/lysosomal processing pathway for class I-restricted presentation of peptides derived from exogenous S-particles.