T cells can be divided into two groups on the basis of the expression of either alpha beta or gamma delta T-cell receptors (TCRs). Because the TCR delta chain locus lies within the larger TCR alpha chain locus, control of the utilization of these two receptors is important in T-cell development, specifically for determination of T-cell type: rearrangement of the alpha locus results in deletion of the delta coding segments and commitment to the alpha beta lineage. In the developing thymus, a relative site-specific recombination occurs by which the TCR delta chain gene segments are deleted. This deletion removes all D delta, J delta, and C delta genes and occurs on both alleles. This delta deletional mechanism is evolutionarily conserved between mice and humans. Transgenic mice which contain the human delta deleting elements and as much internal TCR delta chain coding sequence as possible without allowing the formation of a complete delta chain gene were developed. Several transgenic lines showing recombinations between deleting elements within the transgene were developed. These lines demonstrate that utilization of the delta deleting elements occurs in alpha beta T cells of the spleen and thymus. These recombinations are rare in the gamma delta population, indicating that the machinery for utilization of delta deleting elements is functional in alpha beta T cells but absent in gamma delta T cells. Furthermore, a discrete population of early thymocytes containing delta deleting element recombinations but not V alpha-to-J alpha rearrangements has been identified. These data are consistent with a model in which delta deletion contributes to the implementation of a signal by which the TCR alpha chain locus is rearranged and expressed and thus becomes an alpha beta T cell
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