Polymorphism of the genes coding for the human histocompatibility leukocyte antigen class II DR and DQ molecules makes the single largest genetic contribution to the risk of developing insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) and can be associated with highly elevated as well as decreased disease frequency. The mechanism of IDDM risk modification by HLA polymorphism is likely to involve differential presentation of autoantigenic peptides by HLA class II proteins. We have generated T cell lines (TCL) with specificity for the IDDM autoantigen 65 kDa glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD65) from lymphocytes of two patients carrying HLA class II alleles associated with distinct risk of IDDM (DRB1*0101/0401 and 1302/1501). For both patients, TCL generated at various time points all recognized single epitopes mapped as GAD 88-99 and 248-257, respectively. These epitopes are presented by the DRB1*0101 and DRB5*0101, HLA class II molecules associated with a moderately elevated risk of IDDM, or carried in a strongly protective haplotype, respectively. In an HLA/peptide binding assay, epitope GAD 248-257 was shown to possess high affinity for DRB5*0101. This epitope overlaps with a central GAD peptide binding to the high risk allele DQB1*0302 and containing a Coxsackie P2C-identical mimicry sequence, raising the possibility of competition of DRB5*0101 and DQB1*0302 for binding of a central GAD65 fragment.