Adjuvant arthritis in rats is induced by a T cell clone specific for amino acids 180-188 of the mycobacterial 65-kD heat-shock protein, and synovial T cell responses to this same Ag have been noted in human arthritis. We have isolated 65-kD Ag-specific T cell clones from synovial fluid mononuclear cells of a patient with acute arthritis, which, unlike the corresponding PBMC, showed a marked proliferative response to the 65-kD Ag. Using synthetic peptides corresponding to the whole sequence of the 65-kD Ag, all the clones were shown to recognize an epitope present in the first NH2-terminal peptide (amino acids 1-15), with no response to the adjacent peptide (amino acids 6-22) or to any other peptide. The complete dominance of this epitope in the response to the 65-kD Ag was shown by documenting responses to the peptide in PBMC obtained after recovery from the arthritis. This epitope, like that recognized by the rat arthritogenic T cell clone, is in a portion of the 65-kD sequence that is not conserved between bacteria and eukaryotes, so that in this case, joint inflammation could not be attributed to bacteria-induced T cell clones cross-reacting with the self 65-kD Ag.