Hemi-exon shuffling and site-directed mutagenesis have been used to determine which amino acid differences between HLA-A2.1 and HLA-A2.2 alter the CTL-defined epitopes on these two molecules. Two genes were constructed that encode novel molecules in which the effect of amino acid differences at residues 9, 43, and 95, or at residue 156 could be separately evaluated. Using both human and murine CTL that were specific for either HLA-A2.1 or HLA-A2.2, four types of epitopes were identified: 1) epitopes that were insensitive to substitutions at either residues 9, 43, and 95, or residue 156 but were lost when all four positions were changed; 2) epitopes that were dependent on the residues 9, 43, 95, but not residue 156; 3) epitopes that were dependent on residue 156, but not amino acid residues 9, 43, and 95; and 4) epitopes that were dependent on residues 9, 43, and 95, as well as amino acid residue 156. Overall, there was a roughly equal distribution of clones recognizing each of these types of epitopes. Additional molecules were constructed by hemi-exon shuffling between the HLA-A2.2 and HLA-A2.3 genes, and by site-directed mutagenesis, to analyze the epitopes recognized by two HLA-A2.2/A2.1 cross-reactive murine CTL that do not recognize HLA-A2.3. Although the epitopes recognized by these CTL were unaffected by changes occurring at residues 9, 43, and 95, or at residues 149, 152, and 156 alone, simultaneous changes in both of these regions acted in concert to destroy the epitopes. Both of the CTL recognized epitopes that were lost when substitutions were made at residues 9, 43, 95, 149, and 152. The epitope recognized by one of the CTL was also destroyed by the substitution of residues 9, 43, 95, 152, and 156. Overall, these results indicate that residues 9, 43, and 95, as well as residues in the alpha-helical region of the molecule, are all capable of contributing to the definition of the epitopes recognized by HLA-A2.1- and HLA-A2.2-specific CTL. They further indicate that some epitopes can be mapped to a particular region of the molecule, whereas other epitopes are formed through a complex interaction of residues in distant regions of the molecule.