The stoichiometry of the subunits that comprise the T cell antigen receptor (TCR) complex is not completely known. In particular, it is uncertain whether TCR alpha and TCR beta proteins are present in the TCR complex as one or multiple heterodimeric pairs. In this study we have used mice transgenic for two different TCR alpha and two different TCR beta proteins to determine the number of TCR alpha and TCR beta chains in a single TCR complex. Individual thymocytes and splenic T cells from double TCR transgenic mice simultaneously expressed all four transgenic TCR proteins on their surfaces. Because the individual TCR alpha and individual TCR beta proteins were biochemically distinguishable, we were able to examine association among the transgenic TCR products. We found that each TCR alpha chain paired with each TCR beta chain, but that each TCR complex contained only one TCR alpha and one TCR beta protein. Furthermore, quantitative immunofluorescence revealed that T cells expressed twice as many CD3 epsilon as TCR beta proteins. These findings demonstrate that there are precisely one TCR alpha, one TCR beta, and two CD3 epsilon chains in each TCR/CD3 complex expressed on the surfaces of both thymocytes and mature T cells.

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