Staphylococcal enterotoxins (SE) and toxic shock syndrome toxin 1 (TSST-1) bind to MHC class II molecules and the toxin-class II complexes induce proliferation of T cells bearing specific Vβ sequences. We have previously reported that these toxins display varying binding affinities for HLA-DR1. We now investigated whether these differences simply reflected differences in binding affinity for a single class II binding site or, at least in part, the engagement of different binding sites on the HLA-DR complex. Through competitive binding studies we show that SEB and TSST-1, which are not closely related by their amino acid sequences, bind to two different sites on HLA-DR. Both of these sites are also occupied by staphylococcal enterotoxin A (SEA), enterotoxin D (SED), and enterotoxin E (SEE) which exhibit more than 70% amino acid sequence homology. SEB and TSST-1 failed to inhibit SEA binding to HLA-DR. These studies suggest that there may be three distinct, although perhaps overlapping, binding sites on HLA-DR for these toxins. Further, although SED and SEE are similar to SEA in structure, and appear to bind the same sites on HLA-DR as SEA, they displayed significantly lower binding affinities. T cell proliferative responses to SED required a higher concentration of the toxin than SEA, probably reflecting its lower binding affinity. SEE, however, elicited T cell responses at very low concentrations, similar to SEA, despite its much lower binding affinity. Therefore, although the affinities of these toxins to MHC class II molecules appear to significantly influence the T cell responses, the effective recognition of the toxin-class II complex by the TCR may also contribute to such responses.