T lymphocyte lines specific for myelin basic protein (BP) can mediate experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), or can protect against the active induction of the disease. To investigate the antigenic fine specificity of guinea pig (GP) BP-specific T cell lines raised from different rat strains, and to determine whether functionally different T lymphocyte lines and clones recognized the same or different regions of the BP molecule, the proliferation responses of line cells were assessed after stimulation with purified peptides of GP-BP. Lewis rat T cell lines and clones selected for responses to whole GP-BP responded selectively to the 68-88 amino acid sequence of GP-BP, but not to the 1-37, 43-67, or 89-169 sequences. The region of GP-BP recognized by Lewis T cells was additionally defined to include the 75-80 amino acid sequence, because a T cell clone responded equally to GP and rat BP which differed by only one amino acid at position 79, but did not respond to human or bovine BP, which had a Gly-His insertion in this region. T lymphocyte lines derived from the F344 and PVG (Weizmann) rat strains shared the same selective response to peptide 68-88, but lines from BN rats responded to an epitope(s) outside of the 68-88 sequence. The functional capacity of the various T cell lines to mediate experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) or to induce resistance against EAE was independent of their specificity for the different GP-BP peptides; lines specific for epitope(s) within or excluded from the 68-88 sequence could be encephalitogenic depending on their strain of origin, and various lines specific for the 68-88 peptide could induce both disease and protection, disease only, or neither activity.