H2-M is a nonconventional major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecule that has been implicated in the loading of peptides onto conventional class II molecules. We generated mice with a targeted mutation in the H2-Ma gene, which encodes a subunit for H2-M. Although the mutant mice express normal class II cell surface levels, these are structurally distinct from the compact SDS-resistant complexes expressed by wild-type cells and are predominantly bound by class II-associated invariant chain peptides (CLIPs). Cells from these animals are unable to present intact protein antigens to class II-restricted T cells and show reduced capacity to present exogenous peptides. Numbers of mature CD4+ T lymphocytes in mutant mice are reduced 3- to 4-fold and exhibit altered reactivities. Overall, this phenotype establishes an important role for H2-M in regulating MHC class II function in vivo and supports the notion that self-peptides contribute to the specificity of T cell positive selection.