Previous studies of murine T cell recognition of the pre-S(2) region of the hepatitis B surface Ag (HBsAg) identified high (H-2b,d,q), intermediate (H-2s,k), and low to nonresponder (H-2f) haplotypes. However, these studies utilized the y subtype of HBsAg. The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of viral subtype on T cell recognition of the pre-S(2) region and to identify specific T cell recognition sites in a panel of H-2 congenic strains. Immunization with pre-S(2) containing HBsAg particles of the d and y subtypes indicated that T cell recognition of the pre-S(2) region is predominantly subtype-specific in murine strains of eight different H-2 haplotypes. Furthermore, the B10.M strain (H-2f) classified as a T cell nonresponder to the y subtype of the pre-S(2) region responds efficiently to the d subtype, indicating that pre-S(2) responder status can be subtype-dependent as well as subtype-specific. Studies using a truncated pre-S(2) polypeptide and synthetic peptides illustrated that the C-terminal sequence (p148-174) of the pre-S(2) region is the dominant focus of T cell recognition in multiple murine strains. Specifically, 17 distinct T cell recognition sites were defined within the C-terminal half of the pre-S(2) region. The fine specificity of T cell recognition of the pre-S(2) region was dependent on the H-2 haplotype of the responding strain. T cell recognition of all 17 sites was subtype specific, which is consistent with the fact that the C-terminal sequence is highly polymorphic between the d and y subtypes of the pre-S(2) region. Lastly, it was shown that the ability of synthetic peptides to elicit T cells cross-reactive with the native pre-S(2) region was variable and depended on the nature of the immunizing peptide. The pre-S(2)-containing HBsAg vaccines currently in clinical trials are composed of ra single subtype, either d or y. The results of this study suggest that both subtypes should be incorporated to increase the frequency of T cell responders to the pre-S(2) region, and to insure Th cell memory relevant to infection with hepatitis B virus of either the d or y subtypes.