A systematic series of 89 single residue substitution analogs of the Mycobacterium leprae 65-kDa protein-derived peptide LQAAPALDKL were tested for stimulation of two HLA-DR2 restricted 65 kDa-reactive T cell clones from a tuberculoid leprosy patient. Some analogs with substitutions outside a "core" region showed enhanced stimulation of the T cell clones. This core region of seven or eight residues was essential for recognition, whereas substitution of amino acids outside this region did not affect T cell recognition although these residues could not be omitted. Thus these core residues interact directly with the presenting HLA-DR2 molecule and/or the TCR. Except for analogs of position 419 for clone 2B6, the majority of the nonstimulatory substitution analogs did not inhibit the presentation of LQAAPALDKL and thus probably failed to bind to the HLA-DR2 molecule. Unless all of the core residues are physically involved in binding to DR2, substitution at a position not directly involved in binding appears to have an influence on other residues that do bind to the DR2 molecule. Active peptide analogs with two or more internal prolines suggest that not all analogs need be helical for activity with clone 2F10.