We have measured the relative levels of transcripts for 15 of the 22 known V beta gene segments. The level of transcripts for the highest and lowest expressed V beta gene segment differed by greater than 20-fold in the thymus and an even larger difference was observed in the periphery. The levels of expressions were unrelated to the order of the V beta genes on the chromosome. For most of the V beta gene segments, the relative transcript levels were the same in the thymus and periphery, suggesting that thymic selection in general does not act solely upon the V beta gene segment. One V beta gene segment in the BALB and B10 mice strains was an exception to this rule. V beta 5.2 expression in the periphery of BALB and B10 mice inversely correlated with the expression of the MHC class II molecule I-E. Five V beta gene segments had reduced transcript levels in the periphery of Mls-1a mice compared with their thymic levels or to the levels found in Mls-1b mice. The peripheral level of V beta 3 transcripts vary with MHC and Mls-2 haplotypes. The observation that certain V beta transcript levels are reduced in the periphery when compared with the thymus favors the hypothesis that self tolerance at the T cell level results in the elimination of self-reactive T cells, rather than paralysis by a block at some post-transcriptional step. Finally, the wide variability of V beta gene segment expression in the thymus suggests mechanisms exist to import an early bias to the repertoire. Whether this bias results from differential V beta segment rearrangement rates, differential V beta expression rates, or events occurring after TCR-alpha/beta expression on immature/nonmature thymocyte cell surfaces is yet to be determined.

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