An immunological basis has been postulated for the strong association between at least five subtypes of the HLA-B27 allele (B27.01, .02, .04, .05, and .06) and ankylosing spondylitis, namely that cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) responses are induced against an "arthritogenic" peptide that these different subtypes can all present. This requires a degree of overlap between the peptide binding repertoires of different B27 molecules. The present work, using CTL responses to Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) as a model system in which to identify B27-restricted epitopes, provides the first direct evidence that different disease-related alleles can present the same immunodominant peptide. We first noted that EBV-specific CTL clones, whether from B27.05-, B27.02-, or B27.04-positive donors, were largely subtype-specific in their restriction, recognizing only EBV-transformed B cell lines of the relevant B27 subtype. However, when tested against targets expressing individual EBV proteins from recombinant vaccinia virus vectors, all B27.05-restricted, all B27.02-restricted, and a proportion of B27.04-restricted clones were reactive to the same viral nuclear antigen, Epstein-Barr nuclear antigen (EBNA)3C. In subsequent peptide sensitization assays, all the EBNA3C-specific clones tested and also the EBNA3C-specific component within polyclonal CTL preparations from B27.05-, B27.02-, or B27.04-positive donors recognized the same immunodominant viral peptide RRIYDLIEL (EBNA3C residues 258-266). This sequence accords well with the proposed B27.05 peptide motif and clearly must be accommodated within the different peptide binding grooves of B27.05, B27.02, and B27.04 molecules. Clonal analysis revealed a second component of the B27.04-restricted response that was not shared with other subtypes. This was directed against an EBV latent membrane protein LMP2 epitope whose sequence RRRWRRLTV satisfies some but not all requirements of the B27.05 peptide motif. We conclude that there is indeed a degree of functional overlap between different B27 subtypes in their selection and presentation of CTL epitopes.