Self peptides bound to HLA-DQ7 (alpha1*0501-beta1*0301), one of the HLA molecules associated with protection against insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, were characterized after their acid elution from immunoaffinity-purified HLA-DQ7 (alpha1*0501-beta1*0301) molecules. The majority of these self peptides derived from membrane-associated proteins including HLA class I, class II, class II-associated invariant chain peptide and the transferrin-receptor (TfR). By in vitro binding assays, the specificity of these endogenous peptides for HLA-DQ7 (alpha1*0501-beta1*0301) molecules was confirmed. Among these peptides, the binding specificity of the TfR 215-230 self peptide was further examined on a variety of HLA-DQ and DR dimers. Several findings emerged from this analysis: (1) this peptide displayed HLA-DQ allelic specificity, binding only to HLA-DQ7 (alpha1*0501-beta1*0301); (2) when either the DQalpha or DQbeta chain was exchanged, little or no binding was observed, indicating that specificity of HLA-DQ peptide binding was determined by polymorphic residues of both the alpha and beta chains. (3) Unexpectedly, the TfR 215-230 self peptide, eluted from DQ, was promiscuous with regard to HLA-DR binding. This distinct DR and DQ binding pattern could reflect the structure of these two molecules as recently evidenced by crystallography.