To assess the role of Ia epitopes in conferring specificity for the immune response to nominal antigen, we compared the insulin response of mice with a defined mutation in the I-Ab beta gene, the B6.C-H-2bm12 (bm12), with that of wild-type H-2b C57BL/6 (B6) mice. We report that the bm 12 mutation resulted in a selective alteration of the specificity of insulin recognition, such that bm 12 mice responded upon immunization with sheep but not beef insulin, which differ by only one amino acid at position 9 of the insulin A chain. Thus, the bm12 mutation allows for the definition of the actual nucleotide sequence coding for an Ia epitope that is responsible for controlling the specificity of immune recognition of insulin. Furthermore, we show that the sheep insulin response of H-2k mice is controlled by the E molecule and that sheep insulin can be recognized by primed bm12 and H-2k T cells in the context of either bm12, B10.A, or B10.A(5R) antigen-presenting cells. Our data suggest that the mechanism for the bm12 mutation was the intergenic transfer of a hypervariable region in the first domain that is identical in the I-Abm12 beta, I-Eb beta, and I-Ek beta genes.

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