To understand the dominant association of celiac disease (CD) with the presence of HLA-DQ(alpha 1*0501, beta 1*0201), the peptide binding characteristics of this molecule were compared with that of the structurally similar, but non-CD-associated DQ(alpha 1*0201, beta 1*0202) molecule. First, naturally processed peptides were acid-extracted from immuno-affinity-purified DQ molecules of both types. Both molecules contained the Ii-derived CLIP sequence and a particular fragment of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I alpha chain. Use of truncated analogues of these two peptides in cell-free peptide binding assays indicated that identical peptide frames are used for binding to the two DQ2 molecules. Detailed substitution analysis of the MHC class I peptide revealed identical side chain requirements for the anchor residues at p6 and p7. AT p1, p4, and p9, however, polar substitutions (such as N, Q, G, S, and T) were less well tolerated in the case of the DQ(alpha 1*0201, beta 1*0202) molecule. This most striking difference between the two DQ molecules is the presence of and additional anchor residue at p3 for the DQ(alpha 1*0201, beta 1*0202) molecule, whereas this residue was found not to be specifically involved in binding of peptides to DQ(alpha 1*0501, beta 1*0201). Similar results were obtained applying substitution analysis of the CLIP sequence. Molecular modelling of the DQ2 proteins complexed with the MHC class I and CLIP peptide corresponds well with the binding data. The results suggest that both CLIP and the MHC class I peptide bind DQ(alpha 1*0501, beta 1*0201) and DQ(alpha 1*0201, beta 1*0202) in a DR-like fashion, following highly similar binding criteria. This detailed characterization of unique peptide binding properties of the CD-associated DQ(alpha 1*0501, beta 1*0201) molecule should be helpful in the identification of CD-inducing epitopes.