HBs antigen (HBsAg)183–191 (FLLTRILTI, R187 peptide) is a dominant human leucocyte antigen-A2 (HLA-A2)-restricted epitope associated with hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in Caucasian populations. However, its prevalence is poorly understood in China, where there is a high incidence of HBV infection. In this report, we sequenced the region of HBsAg derived from 103 Chinese patients. Approximately 16·5% of the patients bore a mutant HBsAg183–191 epitope in which the original arginine (R187) was substituted with a lysine (K187 mutant peptide). Importantly, K187 still bound to HLA-A2 with high affinity, and elicited specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) responses in HLA-A2/Kb transgenic mice. K187-specific CTLs were also generated successfully in acute hepatitis B (AHB) patients, indicating that this mutant epitope is processed and presented effectively. Our findings show that R187-specific CTLs can cross-react with the K187 peptide. These findings reveal that K187 still has the property of an HLA-A2 restricted epitope, and elicits a protective anti-HBV CTL response in humans.