2C is a typical alloreactive cytotoxic T lymphocyte clone that recognizes two different ligands. These ligands are adducts of the allo-major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecule H-2Ld and an endogenous octapeptide, and of the self-MHC molecule H-2Kb and another peptide. MHC-binding and T-cell assays with synthetic peptides in combination with molecular modeling studies were employed to analyze the structural basis for this crossreactivity. The molecular surfaces of the two complexes differ greatly in densities and distributions of positive and negative charges. However, modifications of the peptides that increase similarity decrease the capacities of the resulting MHC peptide complexes to induce T-cell responses. Moreover, the roles of the peptides in ligand recognition are different for self- and allo-MHC-restricted T-cell responses. The self-MHC-restricted T-cell responses were finely tuned to recognition of the peptide. The allo-MHC-restricted responses, on the other hand, largely ignore modifications of the peptide. The results strongly suggest that adaptation of the T-cell receptor to the different ligand structures, rather than molecular mimicry by the ligands, is the basis for the crossreactivity of 2C. This conclusion has important implications for T-cell immunology and for the understanding of immunological disorders.