The effect of amino acid residues outside of T cell determinant regions of Staphylococcus aureus nuclease (Nase) on the activation of T cell hybridomas has been investigated. T cell hybridomas derived from BALB/c mice immunized with Nase were screened against a nested set of overlapping synthetic peptides spanning the entire Nase molecule. Five regions of Nase, encompassing residues 1 to 20, 21 to 40, 61 to 80, 101 to 120, and 112 to 130, were found to be the T cell determinants. Region 61 to 80 is the immunodominant site. Mutants of Nase with a single amino acid substitution outside their defined T cell determinants were tested for their ability to stimulate the T cell hybridomas. The substitution of arginine for glutamic acid at residue 43 markedly reduces the antigenic potency of the protein for I-E(d) restricted T cell hybridomas, which recognize Nase peptides comprised of residues 21 to 40 (p21-40) or 112 to 130 (p112-130). In contrast, the stimulatory capacity of this mutant for I-A(d) restricted T cell hybridomas remains unchanged. Our results suggest that selective regulation of an immune response may be achieved by appropriately mutagenizing protein Ag.