The basis for strong immunogenetic associations between particular human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I allotypes and inflammatory conditions like Behçet's disease (HLA-B51) and ankylosing spondylitis (HLA-B27) remain mysterious. Recently, however, even stronger HLA associations are reported in drug hypersensitivities to the reverse-transcriptase inhibitor abacavir (HLA-B57), the gout prophylactic allopurinol (HLA-B58), and the antiepileptic carbamazepine (HLA-B*1502), providing a defined disease trigger and suggesting a general mechanism for these associations. We show that systemic reactions to abacavir were driven by drug-specific activation of cytokine-producing, cytotoxic CD8+ T cells. Recognition of abacavir required the transporter associated with antigen presentation and tapasin, was fixation sensitive, and was uniquely restricted by HLA-B*5701 and not closely related HLA allotypes with polymorphisms in the antigen-binding cleft. Hence, the strong association of HLA-B*5701 with abacavir hypersensitivity reflects specificity through creation of a unique ligand as well as HLA-restricted antigen presentation, suggesting a basis for the strong HLA class I-association with certain inflammatory disorders.