C57BL/6 (B6) mice respond to immunization with acetylcholine receptor (AChR) from Torpedo californica as measured by T cell proliferation, antibody production, and the development of muscle weakness resembling human myasthenia gravis. The congenic strain B6.C-H-2bm12 (bm12), which differs from B6 by three amino acid substitutions in the beta-chain of the MHC class II molecule I-A, develops a T cell proliferative response but does not produce antibody or develop muscle weakness. By examining the fine specificity of the B6 and bm12 T cell responses to AChR by using T cell clones and synthetic AChR peptides, we found key differences between the two strains in T cell epitope recognition. B6 T cells responded predominantly to the peptide representing alpha-subunit residues 146-162; this response was cross-reactive at the clonal level to peptide 111-126. Based on the sequence homology between these peptides and the T cell response to a set of truncated peptides, the major B6 T cell epitope was determined to be residues 148-152. The cross-reactivity of peptides 146-162 and 111-126 could also be demonstrated in vivo. Immunization of B6 mice with either peptide primed for T cell responses to both peptides. In contrast, immunization of bm12 mice with peptide 111-126 primed for an anti-peptide response, which did not cross-react with 146-162. Peptide-reactive T cells were not elicited after immunization of bm12 mice with 146-162. These results define a major T cell fine specificity in experimental autoimmune myasthenia gravis-susceptible B6 mice to be directed at alpha-subunit residues 148-152. T cells from disease-resistant bm12 mice fail to recognize this epitope but do recognize other portions of AChR. We postulate that alpha-148-152 is a disease-related epitope in murine experimental autoimmune myasthenia gravis. In this informative strain combination, MHC class II-associated determinant selection, rather than Ag responsiveness per se, may play a major role in determining disease susceptibility.