T cells primed specifically for the envelope glycoprotein of Friend murine leukemia helper virus (F-MuLV) were prepared by immunizing mice with a recombinant vaccinia virus that expressed the entire env gene of F-MuLV. Significant proliferative responses of F-MuLV envelope-specific, H-2a/b T cells were observed when the T cells were stimulated with antigen-pulsed peritoneal exudate cells (PEC) having the b allele at the K, A beta, A alpha, and E beta loci of the H-2. On the other hand, PEC having only the kappa allele at these loci did not induce the envelope-specific T cell proliferation, even when the PEC had the b allele at the E alpha, S, or D loci. F-MuLV envelope-specific proliferation of H-2a/b T cells under the stimulation of antigen-pulsed, H-2a/b PEC was specifically blocked with anti-I-Ab and anti-I-Ek mAbs but not with anti-Kb, anti-Kk, or anti-I-Ak mAbs. Moreover, (B10.MBR x A/WySn)F1 mice that have the b allele only at the K locus but not in I-A subregion were nonresponders to the envelope glycoprotein, and the bm12 mutation at the A beta locus completely abolished the T cell responsiveness to this antigen. These results indicate that proliferative T cells recognize a limited number of epitopes on F-MuLV envelope protein in the context of I-Ab, hybrid I-Ak/b, and/or hybrid I-Ek/b class II MHC molecules but fail to recognize the same envelope protein in the context of I-Ak or I-Ek molecules. This influence of the H-2I region on T cell recognition of the envelope glycoprotein appeared to control in vivo induction of protective immunity against Friend virus complex after immunization with the vaccinia-F-MuLV env vaccine. Thus, these results provide, for the first time, direct evidence for Ir gene-controlled responder/nonresponder phenotypes influencing the immune response to a pathogenic virus of mice.

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