This study explores the usage of T cell antigen receptor (TCR) beta chain elements in Lewis rats with experimentally induced allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE). TCRs from 15 different T cell clones and hybridomas derived from animals immunized with myelin basic protein (MBP), and all having specificity for the 21-mer encephalitogenic fragment MBP 68-88, utilized V beta 8.2. In addition, there was a marked conservation of the first two amino acid residues of the junctional complementarity determining region 3 (CDR3) associated with the V beta 8.2 receptors. 12 of 15 contained an aspartic acid followed by serine regardless of the associated J beta element. At the nucleotide level, this conservation of AspSer residues was accomplished with few or no nongermline-encoded nucleotide (N) additions. A similar pattern of AspSer usage and N region nucleotide additions was observed in a number of V beta 8.2 isolates derived from MBP-immunized lymph nodes. In contrast, V beta 8.2 polymerase chain reaction amplified isolates from Lewis T cells activated with concanavalin A or from lymph nodes of complete Freund's adjuvant-immunized animals showed no AspSer utilization (0/31) in the CDR3, and four to nine N region nucleotide additions. We conclude from this finding that AspSer residues in the CDR3, limited N region nucleotide additions, along with V beta 8.2 sequences, contribute to TCR specificity for MBP 68-88. This raises the possibility that encephalitogenic, disease-causing T cells either represent a population that derives from late fetal life or alternatively, that they are rare cells with this particular TCR phenotype contributed to the T cell pool throughout adulthood and are selected by antigen. In either case, the CDR3 AspSer sequences as well as V beta 8.2 sequences are candidates for the receptor target structures recognized by regulator T cells in recovery from and resistance to active EAE. In this respect, a preliminary analysis of TCR utilization in three T cell clones specific for MBP 68-88 isolated from animals recovered from active EAE indicates that while all three use V beta 8.2, only one contains AspSer in the CDR3.