Recent data suggest alternative mechanisms that promote human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-associated drug syndromes. Hypersensitive responses have been attributed to drug interactions with HLA molecules, peptides presented by HLA molecules and T-cell antigen receptors. Definition of an increasing number of HLA-associated drug syndromes suggests that polymorphism in the antigen-binding cleft residues influence recognition of specific drugs. Recent data demonstrate that small molecule drugs bind within the antigen-binding cleft of HLA in a manner that alters the repertoire of HLA-bound peptide ligands. This drug recognition mechanism permits presentation of self-peptides to which the host has not been tolerized. This altered repertoire mechanism is analogous to massive polyclonal T-cell responses occurring in mismatched HLA organ transplantation in which the drug in effect creates a novel HLA allele. Alteration of the self-peptide repertoire by HLA-binding small molecules may be the mechanistic basis for a diverse set of deleterious T-cell responses since the antigen-binding cleft has structural features that are compatible with binding drug-like small molecules. Small molecule drugs that bind elements of the trimolecular complex (T-cell receptor, peptide, and HLA) may cause short- and long-term adverse effects by a diverse set of mechanisms.