The function and structure of the TCR proteins of intraepithelial lymphocytes (IEL) were examined using a panel of mAbs specific for TCR-gamma/delta. Three subsets of TCR-gamma/delta+ IEL could be detected with five mAbs, termed GL1-GL5. The mAbs were able to trigger lysis via crosslinking of the IEL TCR and all of the subsets were constitutively cytolytic. Immunoprecipitation of IEL TCR proteins revealed that the GL2 mAb reacted only with gamma, delta heterodimers containing high Mr delta chains, while the other mAbs precipitated all of the observed gamma and delta proteins. Two-color fluorescence analysis showed that the GL2+ subset was contained within the larger GL1+ subset. The GL3 and GL4 mAbs appear to be specific for all TCR-gamma/delta while GL2 was V delta 4 specific. Analysis of IEL for TCR-alpha/beta expression demonstrated that approximately 20% of B6 IEL were TCR-alpha/beta+. Interestingly, this population of IEL contained Thy-1- and CT1+ cells, indicating that the unique phenotype of IEL was not restricted to TCR-gamma/delta+ cells. Moreover, the TCR-alpha/beta+ IEL were also constitutively cytolytic, suggesting that the intestinal milieu was controlling the functional programming of IEL regardless of TCR type. The mAbs reported here as well as the ability to exploit the distinct phenotype of IEL should prove useful in determining the function of IEL and the TCR-gamma/delta.

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