We have analyzed T-cell receptor delta (TcR-delta) gene rearrangement and transcription in appropriately phenotyped mononuclear cells derived from 12 patients with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL). The T-ALL cells were also analyzed for rearrangement and transcription of the T-cell receptor(TcR)-beta and gamma genes as well as for the presence of TcR-alpha gene transcripts. Four T-ALLs expressed TcR-gamma delta at the cell surface, while three expressed TcR-alpha beta. The other five T-ALLs did not express a TcR-CD3 complex on their cell membrane. The TcR-gamma delta + T-ALL had rearranged both TcR-delta gene alleles and contained mature 2.2 and 1.5 kb TcR-delta transcripts. In one case, immature 1.9 and 1.2 kb TcR-delta transcripts were also found. Furthermore they contained mature TcR-gamma mRNA, mature or immature TcR-beta mRNA, but no TcR-alpha mRNA. The three TcR-alpha beta + T-ALLs contained mature alpha and beta transcripts, but lacked TcR- delta transcripts as a result of deletion of both TcR-delta gene alleles. These data are in line with a mutually exclusive expression of TcR-alpha and -delta genes, which may be important to ensure the presence of only one type of TcR per T cell. One of the five CD3- T- ALLs had germline TcR-beta, gamma, and delta genes. The other four CD3- T-ALLs had rearranged their TcR-beta, gamma, and delta genes and contained immature 1.9 and 1.2 kb TcR-delta gene transcripts. Remarkably, one of these T-ALLs also contained TcR-alpha transcripts in addition to the immature TcR-delta transcripts, which was in line with the deletion of one TcR-delta gene allele and rearrangement of the other allele. This suggests that prevention of dual receptor expression may not only be regulated by the presence of germline TcR-alpha genes in TcR-gamma delta + cells or by deletion of both TcR-delta gene alleles in TcR-alpha beta + cells, but also via other regulation mechanisms. Finally, our data indicated that the combinatorial repertoire of the TcR-delta genes is limited, which has also been described for the TcR-gamma genes.

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