In this study five monoclonal antibodies (MoAbs) to T-cell receptor (TCR) proteins (WT31, alpha F1, beta F1, TCR delta-1 and delta TCS-1) were used to identify discrete maturative stages in 40 cases of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL). These MoAbs reacted exclusively with CD3+ T cells and did not label B-lineage and myeloid cells. In 17 of the 40 T-ALL cases studied the leukemic blasts lacked membrane and cytoplasmic TCR chains (group I). In 12 cases cells did not have membrane CD3/TCR but expressed cytoplasmic TCR proteins heterogenously: nine cases had cytoplasmic TCR beta chains (beta F1+, alpha F1-; group II), one case had cytoplasmic TCR alpha chains (alpha F1+, beta F1-; group III), and two cases were labeled by both alpha F1 and beta F1 MoAbs (group IV). The remaining 11 cases were mCD3+: nine were TCR alpha beta+ (group Va) and two exhibited TCR gamma delta (TCR delta-1+, delta TCS-1+; group Vb). The analysis of the TCR beta, -gamma, and - delta gene configurations in 23 of the 40 T-ALLs showed that: (1) the lack of TCR protein expression was due to the lack of TCR gene rearrangements only in one of nine cases; (2) five of five TCR beta+, TCR alpha- cases studied had germline TCR alpha genes (ie, no detectable TCR delta gene deletions); (3) seven of eight cases with TCR delta gene deletions expressed TCR alpha proteins, whereas in 12 of 20 of the T-ALLs with TCR beta gene rearrangements the synthesis of the corresponding protein occurred; only 2 of 16 cases with rearranged TCR delta genes expressed TCR delta chains. The T-ALL categories identified with anti-TCR MoAbs did not have additional characteristic phenotypic patterns and may correspond to the normal stages of T-cell development more precisely than those defined by other differentiation antigens.

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