The role of molecular mimicry in the spondyloarthropathies was investigated with respect to the epitopes involved. mAb were produced against a synthetic peptide whose sequence was derived from a polymorphic region of the HLA-B27 molecule (amino acids 63-83). Two antibodies (J7F2 and H2B6) were selected for study on the basis of their ability to react with bacterial envelope proteins (ELISA) and B27-positive cells (immunofluorescence). J7F2 reacted preferentially with B27-positive cells and neither antibody reacted with MHC class I negative cells. Based on SDS-PAGE blot analysis of bacterial envelope proteins, the pattern of reactivity for both antibodies (against 36- and 19-kDa proteins) was the same as that for a third monoclonal produced against bacterial envelope and reactive with B27-positive cells. This apparent epitope similarity was investigated by using synthetic peptides to inhibit binding of the monoclonals. The B27 synthetic peptide and a smaller peptide derived from it were efficient inhibitors of antipeptide and antibacterial antibody binding to bacterial Ag and B27-positive cells. These studies provide insight into the molecular basis of cross-reactivity between bacterial proteins and MHC class I molecules.