Heat shock protein (HSP) 65 kD-derived peptides, which specifically stimulate T cells from patients with Behçet's disease (BD), are capable of inducing uveitis in rats. Mycobacterial HSP 65 kD and BD-specific peptides were injected into Lewis rats and the development of uveitis was monitored clinically and histologically, and IgG and IgA antibodies were measured using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Rats immunized with HSP peptides that developed uveitis showed significantly higher serum IgG antibody levels to peptide 311-326 (P < 0.05) and the corresponding homologous human peptide 336-351 (P < 0.01) than rats without uveitis. Significant increases in serum IgA antibodies in rats with uveitis were also observed in those immunized with peptides 111-125, 311-326 and 336-351 (P < 0.05). Rats injected with HSP 65 kD showed a rise in IgG antibody levels to peptides 111-125, 154-172 and 311-326 and to a lesser extent, a rise in IgA antibody level to peptide 311-326. HSP showed almost complete inhibition of binding of IgG antibodies to HSP 65 kD, but peptides 111-125, 154-172, 311-326 and 336-351 showed inhibition to a lesser extent in a competitive assay. These results suggest that increases in IgG and IgA antibody levels to specific peptides within HSP, develop in rats with uveitis. The T and B cell epitopes responsible for the development of ocular disease in rats immunized with HSP-derived peptides, appear to be similar or identical to those found in patients with the ocular type of BD.