We have investigated the proliferative and Th cell responses to the Plasmodium chabaudi adami DS homologue of the Plasmodium falciparum apical membrane Ag 1 (AMA-1), a leading malaria vaccine candidate. Immunodominant T cell epitopes were defined following immunization of BALB/c mice with Escherichia coli-expressed, refolded P. c. adami DS AMA-1 recombinant protein and testing cells from the draining lymph nodes for responses against a series of overlapping peptides spanning P. c. adami AMA-1. A limited number of major T cell sites were identified in both conserved and variable regions of the protein. Several cryptic epitopes that evoked T cell responses following immunization with peptides, but not after protein immunization, were also identified. Adoptive transfer of a T cell line specific for a conserved cryptic epitope (corresponding to residues 31-50) provided help for an anti-AMA-1 protein-specific Ab response following in vivo challenge with P. c. adami parasitized RBC, such that AMA-1-specific Abs appeared more rapidly in recipient mice than in controls. Furthermore, T cells specific for cryptic epitopes afforded partial protection against P. c. adami infection in nude mice. The identification of conserved cryptic Th cell epitopes has important implications for malaria vaccine design.