Regulatory mechanisms governing B cell responses to the trypanosome variant surface glycoprotein (VSG) molecule currently are being studied. As a fundamental basis for examining such regulation, the epitope specificities and idiotypic profiles of murine mAb produced to the VSG of Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense clone LouTat 1.5 were determined. Variant specific mAb were used to probe VSG proteolytic peptides in Western blot analysis, to serve as competitive inhibitors in RIA analyses with purified VSG molecules, and to examine membrane-binding patterns of labeled trypanosome cells in order to evaluate epitope specificities. By using these approaches, a conformational epitope expressed only on the VSG 1.5 surface coat of viable trypanosomes was detected, and two nonconformationally determined epitope clusters were recognized within the subsurface V region of the VSG 1.5 molecule. The subsurface epitope clusters may be repeated on the VSG molecule because each was present on more than one proteolytic VSG peptide fragment. Idiotypic profiles of selected VSG-specific mAb subsequently were determined with xenogeneic antiidiotypic typing sera. Results from competitive inhibition RIA analyses using these reagents demonstrated that varying levels of idiotypic cross-reactivity exist among the subsurface VSG epitope-specific mAb; this cross-reactivity extended to idiotope(s) expressed by a mAb recognizing a surface conformational epitope of the VSG 1.5 molecule. Analysis of complementary idiotypic/antiidiotypic antibody pairs revealed that these specific interactions were inhibited by purified VSG 1.5 but not by purified VSG 1.9, which was derived from a heterologous variant antigenic type. The model mAb described here, and reagents recognizing their idiotypic markers, comprise a foundation for analysis of idiotypic regulation of VSG-specific B cell responses during infection.