Experimental autoimmune uveoretinitis (EAU) is a predominantly CD4+ T cell-mediated autoimmune inflammatory disease of the retina and uveal tract of the eye and the pineal gland. S-antigen, a protein found in retinal photoreceptor cells and pinealocytes, is a potent agent for the induction of EAU in susceptible species and strains. In order to identify the T cell recognition sites of S-antigen responsible for its uveitogenicity and proliferative responses, cyanogen bromide (CB) fragments as well as synthetic peptides were used to test the proliferative responses of two uveitogenic T cell lines, R9 and R17, prepared against native bovine and human Santigen, respectively. Two nonoverlapping synthetic peptides which are known to actively induce EAU, amino acid residues 286-297 and 303-314 of the bovine sequence, were unable to induce proliferative responses in either S-antigen-specific T cell line. However, both of these sites were adjacent to synthetic peptides, residues 273-292 and 317-328, respectively, which were unable to actively induce EAU, but elicited strong proliferative responses from T cell lines raised to bovine and human S-antigen. Repeated in vitro selection of the R9 T cell line with a synthetic peptide containing one of these proliferative sites, residues 317-328, gave rise to a transiently uveitogenic T cell line. Several species-specific T cell epitopes were identified, but none of these were found to be involved in a uveitogenic response. Our results indicate that spatially separated and distinct T cell epitopes are present in S-antigen which are responsible for the active induction of EAU, lymphocyte proliferation, and the ability to adoptively transfer EAU.