We studied the configuration and expression of the gene encoding the beta chain of the T cell receptor (TCR beta) in cell lines and primary tumor cells infected by the human T cell leukemia/lymphoma (lymphotrophic) virus type I (HTLV-I). Most of the cell lines and all the primary tumor cells showed rearrangement of the TCR beta gene, and in each case the rearrangement was distinct. The majority of cases examined were clonal with respect to a particular TCR beta gene rearrangement. Primary tumor cells from one case (SD) were found to have a tandem duplication of a portion of chromosome 7; this appears to have resulted in the presence of three alleles of the TCR beta gene, each of which is arranged differently. This suggests that the chromosomal abnormality, and possibly infection by HTLV-I, occurred before TCR beta gene rearrangement. Cell lines infected by HTLV-I express levels of TCR beta mRNA similar to PHA stimulated lymphocytes, suggesting that this gene is not transcriptionally activated as a result of infection by HTLV-I. Cloned T cells of known antigen specificity that are infected by HTLV-I in vitro show impairment of immune function, including loss of antigen-specific responsiveness and the acquisition of alloreactivity. Comparison of the configuration of the TCR beta gene before and after infection revealed no changes detectable by Southern blot analysis. Levels of expression of the TCR beta gene at the mRNA level and surface expression of the T3 complex were also not significantly altered, suggesting that changes in immune function cannot be attributed to quantitative changes in the TCR molecule. The configuration of the TCR beta gene in primary tumor cells infected by HTLV-I was compared with that in the derived cell lines. In all pairs examined, the configuration in the primary tumor cells was different from that in the cell lines, strongly suggesting that the cells that grow in culture are not the original neoplastic cells.

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