Rearrangements of the T-cell antigen receptor (TCR) delta chain gene were studied in primary neoplastic cells from 137 patients with leukemia or lymphoma. TCR delta gene rearrangements or deletions were observed in all 50 T-cell neoplasms: 5 of 8 CD3- T-cell neoplasms showed rearrangements, whereas biallelic deletion of TCR delta gene was the most common pattern in CD3+ T-cell neoplasm (39 of 42 patients). Rearrangements of TCR delta gene were also detected in 23 of 40 immature B-cell leukemias, including 22 of 25 patients with rearrangements of TCR gamma gene, 2 of 17 mature B-cell neoplasms, and 3 of 30 myeloid leukemias. Thus, TCR delta gene rearrangement or deletion is always found in T-cell neoplasms and is frequently found in immature B-cell leukemias associated with TCR gamma gene rearrangement. Furthermore, TCR delta gene rearrangements associated with the germline configuration of the TCR beta, gamma, and immunoglobulin heavy chain genes were observed in two immature T-cell leukemias, suggesting that TCR delta gene rearrangements precede TCR gamma and beta gene rearrangements. These results indicate that an analysis of TCR delta gene rearrangement provides potential tools to establish the clonality of immature T-cell neoplasms and to identify the normal stages of lymphocyte differentiation.

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