T cells identify by their T-cell receptor (TCR) short peptides in the context of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules. The interaction of the trimolecular complex composed of the TCR and MHC bound peptide was extensively studied using substitution analogs of the original peptide ligands to define those residues important for T-cell recognition in the peptide chain. This approach has led to the observation that T-cell recognition is highly flexible and that many different peptides can be recognized by an individual TCR. Others and we have recently introduced synthetic peptide combinatorial libraries (SCL) to investigate T-cell recognition. Here we review the SCL-based approaches and describe our current techniques for mapping TCR motifs for CD4+ T cells. The implications of our findings for the understanding of T-cell recognition, as well as for future applications to study T-cell responses in infectious diseases, autoimmune disorders and cancer are discussed.