CD1 proteins are antigen-presenting molecules that bind foreign and self-lipids and stimulate specific T cell responses. In the current study, we investigated ligand binding by CD1 proteins by developing a fluorescent probe binding approach using soluble recombinant human CD1 proteins. To increase stability and yield, soluble group 1 CD1 (CD1b and CD1c) and group 2 CD1 (CD1d) proteins were produced as single chain secreted CD1 proteins in which beta2-microglobulin was fused to the N termini of the CD1 heavy chains by a flexible peptide linker sequence. Analysis of ligand binding properties of single chain secreted CD1 proteins by using fluorescent lipid probes indicated significant differences in ligand preference and in pH dependence of binding by group 1 versus group 2 CD1 proteins. Whereas group 1 CD1 isoforms (CD1b and CD1c) show stronger binding of nitrobenzoxadiazole (NBD)-labeled dialkyl-based ligands (phosphatidylcholine, sphingomyelin, and ceramide), group 2 CD1 (CD1d) proteins were stronger binders of small hydrophobic probes such as 1-anilinonaphthalene-8-sulfonic acid and 4,4'-dianilino-1,1'-naphthyl-5,5'-disulfonic acid. Competition studies indicated that binding of fluorescent lipid probes involved association of the probe with the hydrophobic ligand binding groove of CD1 proteins. Analysis of selected alanine substitution mutants of human CD1b known to inhibit antigen presentation showed that NBD-labeled lipid probe binding could be used to distinguish mutations that interfere with ligand binding from those that affect T cell receptor docking. Our findings provide further evidence for the functional specialization of different CD1 isoforms and demonstrate the value of the fluorescent lipid probe binding method for assisting structure-based studies of CD1 function.