Mycoplasma arthritidis, an agent of chronic proliferative arthritis of rodents, secretes a potent soluble superantigen, MAM, that is active for both murine and human T and B lymphocytes. We now report the complete nucleotide and amino acid sequence of MAM and show it to be distinct from other proteins and not closely related phylogenetically to other superantigens. Two functional domains on MAM are identified based on the ability of peptides encompassing these regions to inhibit lymphocyte proliferation by the intact MAM molecule. One of these domains shares short sequences or epitopes with other microbial superantigens. The second domain contains the consensus legume lectin motif-beta, which is important for T cell activation by concanavalin (Con) A. MAM and Con A peptides containing this motif are functionally cross reactive, suggesting a novel secondary pathway for T cell activation by MAM.