Recent work indicates that signaling events resulting from stimulation of the T cell antigen receptor (TCR) can be initiated by the CD3 complex (gamma, delta, epsilon) as well as the zeta chains of the receptor. To help characterize the signaling function of CD3 we examined its associated tyrosine kinase activity since induction of tyrosine phosphorylation is one of the earliest signaling events. Our results indicate that at least two kinases, lck and ZAP-70, contribute to the CD3-associated kinase activity. A likely target of this activity is the CD3 complex itself since we observed that TCR stimulation resulted in rapid tyrosine phosphorylation of the CD3 epsilon and delta chains. To examine the function of the CD3 epsilon chain in particular, we constructed a chimera that fused the extracellular and transmembrane domains of CD8 to the cytoplasmic domain of CD3 epsilon. This chimera demonstrated that CD3 epsilon was independently capable of associating with proteins having tyrosine kinase activity, including ZAP-70. Our results show that the kinase activity that associates with the CD3 complex has characteristics that are quite similar to the previously characterized zeta-associated kinase activity. This finding suggests that both these components of the TCR initiate signaling events using a common mechanism. However, differences in their signaling function could result from recognition of distinct substrates.

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