T cells bearing the T cell receptor alpha/beta (TCR-alpha/beta) are the predominant lymphocyte population in the human intestinal epithelium. To examine if normal intestinal intraepithelial lymphocytes (IEL) have a TCR repertoire distinct from the TCR-alpha/beta repertoire in peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL), comparative analysis of relative V beta gene usage in IEL and PBL was performed by quantitative polymerase chain reaction. In each of the six individuals examined, one to three V beta families made up more than 40% of the total V beta transcripts detected in the IEL, whereas there was a more even distribution of V beta gene usage in the paired PBL. The predominant V beta families, especially V beta 1, V beta 2, V beta 3, and V beta 6, were frequently shared among IEL of different individuals. PCR cloning and sequence analysis of the predominant V beta 6 family in two individuals revealed an identical V-D-J-C sequence in 13 of 21 clones obtained from one donor, and a different repeated sequence in 18 of 27 clones examined in the second donor. These data suggest that the V beta skewing in IEL is due to an oligoclonal T cell expansion and may reflect the response of the intestinal mucosal immune system to a restricted set of as yet undefined antigens present in the gut.

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