Investigations of the I-Ek-restricted, cytochrome c-specific T-cell response in mice show that both T-cell receptor V alpha and V beta CDR3 residues and the use of particular V alpha s and V beta s are necessary for recognition. Data strongly suggest that specific CDR3 residues are important in contacting the peptide. Other experiments indicate that the requirement for V alpha:V beta conservation is not the result of strong TCR-->MHC interactions, as no correlation was found between V beta usage and changes in the alpha-helixes of the I-Ek molecule. It is also apparent that changes in V alpha or V beta usage could be elicited by changes in the side chain size of single amino acids of the antigenic peptides, suggesting that V alpha or V beta conservation is important for peptide recognition, either directly or indirectly. We also show that we can follow the cytochrome c response in vivo even in nontransgenic mice, solely by staining with anti-V region antibodies as well as mAbs directed at the activation markers CD44 and L-selectin.