A number of antigens recognized by tumor-reactive T cells have recently been identified. The antigens identified in mouse model systems appear, with one exception, to represent the products of mutated genes. In contrast, most of the antigens recognized by human tumor-reactive T cells reported to date appear to represent the products of non-mutated genes. Here we report the isolation of a cDNA clone encoding beta-catenin, which was shown to be recognized by the tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) 1290, a HLA-A24 restricted melanoma-specific CTL line from patient 888. The cDNA clone, which was isolated from the autologous melanoma cDNA library, differed by a single base pair from the published beta-catenin sequence, resulting in a change from a serine to a phenylalanine residue at position 37. Normal tissues from this patient did not express the altered sequence, nor did 12 allogeneic melanomas, indicating that this represented a unique mutation in this patient's melanoma. A peptide corresponding to the sequence between amino acids 29 and 37 of the mutant gene product was identified as the T cell epitope recognized by TIL 1290. The observation that HLA-A24 binding peptides contain an aromatic or hydrophobic residue at position 9 suggested that the change at position 37 may have generated a peptide (SYLDSGIHF) which was capable of binding to HLA-A24, and a competitive binding assay confirmed this hypothesis. The beta-catenin protein has been shown previously to be involved in cell adhesion mediated through the cadherin family of cell surface adhesion molecules. The high frequency of mutations found in members of cellular adhesion complexes in a variety of cancers suggests that these molecules may play a role in development of the malignant phenotype.