Gut intraepithelial lymphocytes (IEL) contain two independent T cell receptor alpha/beta + T cell populations, with different V beta repertoires. In DBA/2 mice (Mlsa, IE+), the CD4+ and heterodimeric alpha/beta CD8+ thymodependent T cell pool shows the same deletion of V beta 6, 8.1, and 11+ cells as found in peripheral lymphoid organs. In contrast, such deletions are not observed in the pool of IEL bearing homodimeric alpha CD8+ chains, in which these V beta families are frequently observed in high amounts. The size of this gut homodimeric alpha CD8+ IEL pool and its different V beta repertoire selection demonstrate the existence of a major extrathymic pathway of T cell differentiation with a gut-restricted localization. The large amount of the thymo-independent, homodimeric alpha CD8+ IEL found in the small bowel may contribute to a first line of defense against exogenous superantigens.

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