CD4-CD8- (double negative [DN]) alpha/beta T cells are a largely uncharacterized subpopulation of unknown function. To investigate whether these cells are selected to recognize particular antigens or antigen-presenting molecules, DN alpha/beta T cells were purified from the peripheral blood of five normal donors and their T cell receptor (TCR) alpha and beta chains were examined. Random cloning of TCR alpha chains by single-sided polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification identified an invariant rearrangement between V alpha 24 and J alpha Q, with no N region diversity, which was expressed preferentially by DN alpha/beta T cells from all donors. Random cloning also identified a precise V alpha 7.2-J alpha (IGRJa14) rearrangement, with two variable amino acids encoded in the V-J junction, which was enriched in the DN alpha/beta T cell preparations from some, but not all, donors. Analysis of TCR beta chains by quantitative PCR amplification demonstrated that the expression of four V beta gene families, V beta 2, 8, 11, and 13, was markedly increased in these DN alpha/beta T cell preparations. The expression of particular TCRs by DN alpha/beta T cells from multiple donors indicates that these cells, or at least a subpopulation of cells with this phenotype, recognize a limited spectrum of antigens and suggests that they may use nonpolymorphic antigen-presenting molecules.

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