Contrary to previous predictions, relatively short synthetic peptides that mimic part of a protein sequence are routinely capable of eliciting an antiserum that reacts with the partially mimicked protein. Peptides capable of eliciting protein-reactive serums are frequently represented in the primary sequence of a protein, can be characterized by a set of simple chemical rules, and are confined neither to immunodominant regions of intact proteins nor to the amino or carboxyl terminals. As such, synthetic peptide immunogens are valuable for eliciting reagents with predetermined specificity that can be used for basic research. In addition, some synthetic peptides are capable of mimicking regions of virus proteins and eliciting immune responses in animals that are protective against the viral agents. Such peptides may thus serve as the basis for safe, chemically defined synthetic vaccines.