11 cyanogen bromide (CB) peptides, comprising 70% of the large protein, Escherichia coli beta-galactosidase (GZ), were studied for their ability to induce T suppressor (Ts) cells capable of strongly suppressing the in vitro anti-fluorescein (FITC) response to GZ-FITC. Only CB-2 (amino acid residues 3-92) and CB-3 (residues 93-187) were found to bear such Ts-inducing epitopes. In examining the specificity of T helper cell (Th) targets susceptible to CB-2 and CB-3-specific Ts, it appeared that only nearly Th targets could be suppressed. Thus, CB-10-primed Th were not suppressed by either Ts; even CB-3-primed Ts did not suppress CB-2-specific Th, although CB-2-specific Ts were effective. Furthermore, analysis of the suppression pattern revealed a hierarchical use of potential epitopes on native GZ in triggering functional regulatory T cells. A dominant Th epitope near the amino terminus of GZ tops a hierarchy of potential Th, most of which are never engaged. The dominant determinant seems to exist on the peptide CB-2-3 (residues 3-187), and presumably is destroyed by its cleavage at Met 92; the Th cells that it induces are suppressible by each of the Ts-inducing peptides. In the GZ system, where the native antigen is quite large, the interactions between Th and Ts are highly circumscribed. This may be attributable to the topology of antigen fragments produced during processing; any relevant fragment must bear at least a Ts- and Th-reactive determinant to permit intercellular regulation. A final implication of these results is that, not only does the existence of a Th-inducing determinant depend on its being an appropriate distance from a B cell epitope, but the existence of Ts-inducing determinants likewise depends on the existence of a neighboring Th-B cell association.