To study how the T cell receptor interacts with its cognate ligand, the MHC/peptide complex, we used site directed mutagenesis to generate single point mutants that alter amino acids in the CDR3beta loop of a H-2Kb restricted TCR (N30.7) specific for an immunodominant peptide N52-N59 (VSV8) derived from the vesicular stomatitis virus nucleocapsid. The effect of each mutation on antigen recognition was analyzed using wild type H-2Kb and VSV8 peptide, as well as H-2Kb and VSV8 variants carrying single replacements at residues known to be exposed to the TCR. These analyses revealed that point mutations at some positions in the CDR3beta loop abrogated recognition entirely, while mutations at other CDR3beta positions caused an altered pattern of antigen recognition over a broad area on the MHC/peptide surface. This area included the N-terminus of the peptide, as well as residues of the MHC alpha1 and alpha2 helices flanking this region. Assuming that the N30 TCR docks on the MHC/peptide with an orientation similar to that recently observed in two different TCR-MHC/peptide crystal structures, our findings would suggest that single amino acid alterations within CDR3beta can affect the interaction of the TCR with an MHC surface region distal from the predicted CDR3beta-Kb/VSV8 interface. Such unique recognition capabilities are generated with minimal alterations in the CDR3 loops of the TCR. These observations suggest the hypothesis that extensive changes in the recognition pattern due to small perturbations in the CDR3 structure appears to be a structural strategy for generating a highly diversified TCR repertoire with specificity for a wide variety of antigens.