Human T lymphocyte clones specific for pertussis toxin (PT) were used to analyze the fine specificity of the response to PT, the basic component of new acellular vaccines against whooping cough. The majority (83%) of the clones specific for PT recognized S1, the subunit that in animal models has been shown to be highly immunogenic. To map T cell epitopes on S1, 18 S1-specific clones were tested for recognition of recombinant fragments representing NH2-terminal and COOH-terminal deletions of S1 and two recombinant S1 subunits containing amino acid substitutions. This approach led to the identification of three regions of the protein as the sequences containing T cell antigenic sites: 1-42, 181-211, and 212-235. Synthetic peptides were eventually used for a finer localization of the T cell epitopes. Two peptides, one of 13 residues (27-39) at the NH2 terminus and one of 24 residues (171-194) at the COOH terminus, stimulated proliferation of three and four clones, respectively. Both peptides are recognized in association with HLA DR1 molecules. These results stress the role of S1 in the immune response to PT and provide data useful for the development of a recombinant or synthetic antipertussis vaccine containing T cell epitopes from S1.