The initial event triggering the activation of Th cells occurs when the TCR interacts with antigenic peptide in the context of the MHC II on APC. Various T cell accessory molecules including CD4, CD28, and LFA-1 participate and facilitate the activation event. Although some evidence for the interaction of MHC II and CD4 is available, the site of MHC class II (alpha-chain, beta-chain, or both chains) for CD4 interaction has not yet been clearly defined. Results from different laboratories had indicated the involvement of alpha 1, beta 1, and beta 2 domains of MHC class II molecules in CD4 interaction. Recently, a conserved site of DR beta 2 domain has been identified that involves CD4 interaction that is analogous to MHC class I binding site for CD8 molecule. In this report, direct binding of affinity-purified HLA-DR2 dimer and its isolated alpha- and beta-chains to CD4 was studied using a CD4-transfected HeLa cell line. Preferential binding of the beta-chain and intact MHC II dimer to the CD4-transfected cells was observed and found to be specifically inhibited by anti-CD4 mAb. In contrast, the isolated alpha-chain of HLA DR2 did not show significant binding to CD4-transfected cells. Complexes of radiolabeled DR2 dimer or beta-chain alone with an immunodominant epitope from myelin basic protein (83-102) did not show any further increase in binding of these molecules. Binding of the beta-chain to CD4+ cells was markedly inhibited by a DR beta 1 peptide (35-46) and was partially inhibited by a DR beta 2 peptide (134-148) of MHC class II molecule. These results suggest the involvement of at least two conserved regions of the beta polypeptide chain of MHC class II in CD4 interaction. Because in our experiments transfected cells lack TCR molecules and the binding of DR2 to the CD4-transfected cells was unaffected by added antigenic peptide, it is possible that the interaction of MHC class II to CD4 is independent of TCR occupancy.