To understand the immunologic characteristics of pertussis toxin molecule and to explore the possibility of developing a synthetic vaccine, T cell epitopes on the enzymatic S1 subunit of pertussis toxin were studied by measuring the proliferative response of immune murine lymph node cells and T cell lines to Ag and to synthetic peptides. The maximum in vitro T cell proliferative response was obtained by stimulating immune lymphoid cells with 20 nM of the enzymatic S1 subunit. When the T cell proliferative response of murine lymphoid cells with different MHC backgrounds was tested, only mice bearing the H-2d haplotype were high responder to the S1 subunit. To determine T cell epitopes on the S1 subunit, the proliferative response of BALB/c immune lymphoid cells to several synthetic S1 peptides was measured. Only the peptide containing amino acid residues, 65-79, was recognized by BALB/c lymphoid cells and was confirmed to contain a T cell epitope by generating S1 specific BALB/c T cell line. By using this T cell line, the response of BALB/c mice to the S1 subunit as well as to peptide 65-79 was shown to be restricted to the I-Ad sublocus of class II Ag. Finally, we showed that lymph node cells of mice immunized with peptide 65-79 respond to the native S1 subunit.