We previously established that H-2M3a, the H chain of the maternally transmitted Ag (Mta), is specialized for presentation of N-formylated peptides. We hypothesized that the N-formyl group might prevent or limit the presentation of peptide Ag by H-2K and H-2D molecules. We now show by Mta- and OVA-specific CTL assays, peptide competition, and immunofluorescence analyses that N-formyl modification of four antigenic peptides inhibited their binding by either H-2Kb (OVA(Met258-264), VSVNP52-59, and SVNP324-332) or H2-Db (SVNP324-332, and IVNP366-374). In contrast, N-formyl-OVA(Met258-264) did bind to H2-M3a. The data imply lack of an N-formyl-binding pocket in classical MHC class I molecules and are consistent with a specialized role for H2-M3a in presentation of N- formylated peptides such as derived from intracellular prokaryotic parasites.