The functional properties of two amino acid substitutions, characteristic of the bm3 mutation, in the Kb class I glycoprotein were analyzed in light of the HLA-A2 crystal model. The model predicts that amino acid residues extending into the proposed ligand-binding site or projecting up from the alpha-helices are functional with respect to peptide Ag presentation; whereas those residues pointing away from the site are silent. L cell clones expressing Kb, Kbm3, and derivatives of Kbm3, Kbm3-77 (Asp----Ser "ligand-binding") and Kbm3-89 (Lys----Ala "silent"), were generated for the analysis. Serologic characterization of this panel of cells by using the mAb B8-24-3, EH-144, 20-8-4, K9-136, and Y-25 (Kb but not Kbm3 specific) revealed the loss of the epitopes recognized by these mAb in the Kbm3-89 clone and the retention of these epitopes in the Kbm3-77 clone. Analysis of the L cell clones by using B6 anti-bm3 CTL demonstrated that L cell clones expressing Kbm3 or Kbm3-77 were lysed by these CTL, whereas clones expressing Kb, Kbm3-89, and Ld were not lysed. In reciprocal experiments, bm3 anti-B6 CTL lysed L cell clones expressing Kb or Kbm3-89 but were unable to lyse clones expressing Kbm3, Kbm3-77, and Ld. The results indicate that the substitution at amino acid 89 determines the Kbm3 serologic phenotype, whereas the Kbm3 alloreactive phenotype is primarily determined by the substitution at amino acid 77. These findings are in good agreement with the predictions derived from the x-ray crystal model of the HLA-A2 molecule.