Thymocytes are positively selected for β T cell antigen receptors (TCR) that recognize antigen in conjunction with self-major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules. MHC bound peptides participate in positive selection; however, their role has remained controversial. A TCR transgenic mouse was established using a TCR restricted to the MHC class Ib molecule, H2-M3. Having defined H2-M3 as the positively selecting MHC molecule, the severely limited number of H2-M3 binding peptides allowed us to characterize an NADH dehydrogenase subunit 1 (ND1)-derived peptide as the physiological ligand of positive selection. This peptide bears no apparent sequence homology to the cognate peptide, is expressed ubiquitously, and yet does not interfere with peripheral T cells. Our studies also suggest that positive selection becomes promiscuous at high epitope densities.