Cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) play an important role in recovery from a number of viral infections. They are also implicated in virus-induced immunopathology as best demonstrated in lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) infection of adult immunocompetent mice. In the present study, the structure of the T-cell receptor (TCR) in LCMV-specific CTL in C57BL/6 (B6) mice was investigated. Spleen T cells obtained from LCMV-infected mice were cultured in vitro with virus-infected stimulator cells and then stained with anti-TCR V beta antibodies. A skewing of V beta usage was noticeable in T cells enriched for their reactivity to LCMV, suggesting that particular V segments are important for the recognition of LCMV T-cell epitopes in B6 mice. To gain more detailed information on the structure of the TCR specific for LCMV epitopes, we studied CTL clones. It has been shown that approximately 90% of LCMV-reactive CTL clones generated in H-2b mice are specific for a short peptide fragment of the LCMV glycoprotein, residues 278 to 286, recognized in the context of the class I major histocompatibility complex molecule, Db. Four CTL clones possessing the specificity were randomly selected from a collection of clones, and their TCR genes were isolated by cDNA cloning or by the anchored polymerase chain reaction. All four clones were found to use V alpha gene segments belonging to the V alpha 4 subfamily. By RNA blot analysis, two more clones with the same specificity were also shown to express the V alpha 4 mRNA. In contrast, three different V beta gene segments were used among the four clones examined. J beta 2.1 was used by three of the clones. Although amino acid sequences in the V(D)J junctional regions were dissimilar, aspartic acid was found in the V alpha J alpha and/or V beta D beta J beta junctions of all four of these clones, suggesting that this residue is involved in binding the LCMV fragment. Restricted usage of V alpha and possibly J beta segments in the CTL response to a major T-cell epitope of LCMV raises the possibility that immunopathology in LCMV infection can be treated with antibodies directed against such TCR segments. Thus, similar analysis of the TCR in other virus infections is warranted and may lead to therapeutic strategies for immunopathology due to virus infections.