The characterization of B cell epitopes has been advanced by the use of random peptide libraries displayed within the coat protein of bacteriophage. This technique was applied to the monoclonal antibody (mAb) C1 to type II collagen (CII-C1). CII-C1 is known to react with a conformational epitope on type II collagen that includes residues 359-363. Three rounds of selection were used to screen two random nonameric phage libraries and 18 phagotopes were isolated. CII-C1 reacted by ELISA with 17 of the 18 phagotopes: one phagotope contained a stop codon. Of the eight most reactive phage, seven inhibited the reactivity by ELISA of CII-C1 with type II collagen. Of the 18 phage isolated, 11 encoded the motif F-G-x-Q with the sequence F-G-S-Q in 6, 2 encoded F-G-Q, and one the reverse motif Q-x-y-F. Most phagotopes that inhibited the reactivity of CII-C1 encoded two particular motifs consisting of two basic amino acid residues and a hydrophobic residue in the first part of the insert and the F-G-x-Q or F-G-Q motif in the second part; phagotopes which contained only one basic residue in the first part of the sequence were less reactive. These motifs are not represented in the linear sequence of type II collagen and thus represent mimotopes of the epitope for CII-C1 on type II collagen. There were five phagotopes with peptide inserts containing the sequence RLPFG occurring in the Epstein-Barr virus nuclear antigen, EBNA-1. This is of interest because EBV has been implicated in the initiation of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) by reason of increased reactivity to EBNA-1 in RA sera. In conclusion, the phage display technique disclosed mimotopes for a conformational epitope of type II collagen, and revealed an interesting homology with a sequence of the EBNA-1 antigen from Epstein Barr virus.