Amino acid residues that are critical in maintaining the framework structure of immunoglobulin heavy- and light-chain variable (V) regions are strongly conserved in the V alpha and V beta proteins of the alpha beta T-cell antigen receptor (TCR alpha beta). Consequently, it has been proposed that TCR alpha beta has a conformation similar to that of an immunoglobulin Fab fragment and that the regions of the TCR homologous to the three immunoglobulin complementarity-determining regions (CDRs 1, 2, and 3) bind to the peptide antigen-major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecule ligand. A single amino acid substitution in the predicted CDR1 of the V beta 3 protein of certain mouse strains dramatically altered TCR alpha beta usage in an antigen-specific MHC-restricted immune response but did not abrogate V beta 3 specificity for the superantigens minor lymphocyte stimulatory locus (Mls)c and staphylococcal enterotoxin A (SEA). The results confirm the importance of the V beta CDR1 in antigen-MHC molecule recognition, supporting the Fab-like structural model of TCR alpha beta, and provide further evidence that conventional antigen-MHC recognition and superantigen recognition are mediated by distinct regions of the TCR beta chain. They also suggest that allelic polymorphism may be a significant source of diversity in the TCR repertoire.