Research into the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis (MS) has focused on myelin antigens as potential targets of autoimmune attack. Proteolipid protein (PLP), which makes up more than 50% of central nervous system myelin, is a hydrophobic membrane protein with many properties that historically have made it difficult to study. The use of synthetic peptides based on the PLP sequence provides an alternative method for studying the immunological properties of PLP. Using peripheral blood lymphocytes from MS patients, long-term TCL established in the presence of PLP reacted weakly to PLP in proliferation assays; however, these same lines were much more reactive to synthetic peptides of PLP. Thus, we established short-term T cell lines (TCL) from the peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) of MS patients in the presence of five separate synthetic PLP peptides. In six out of seven MS patients, proliferative responses were elicited most often to PLP 40-60 compared to four other PLP peptides (PLP 89-106, 103-120, 125-143, and 139-154). Characterization of PLP 40-60-responsive TCL from a single MS patient, MS1, indicated that six out of seven TCL proliferating to the peptide also lysed PLP 40-60 pulsed autologous targets. All cytolytic PLP 40-60 TCL were CD4+ and MHC class II restricted and further analysis of MS1 TCL showed that the PLP 40-60 TCL were restricted by DR4 whereas the MBP TCL from MS1 were restricted by DR6. These findings suggest that difficulties in examining the immune response to PLP have been due to the poor response generated in vitro using the whole molecule and that the use of synthetic peptides may represent an alternative approach to the study of PLP. These results also suggest that MS PBL recognize several PLP peptides, with the predominant response to PLP 40-60. Since these cells phenotypically resemble T cells known to mediate experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, it is possible that they may play a role in the pathogenesis of MS.