To analyze the regulation of gene rearrangement at the T cell receptor (TCR) alpha/delta locus during T cell development, we generated transgenic mice carrying a human TCR delta gene minilocus. We previously showed that the presence of the TCR delta enhancer (E delta) within the J delta 3-C delta intron was required to activate a specific step (V-D to J) of transgene rearrangement, and that rearrangement was activated equivalently in the precursors of alpha beta and gamma delta T cells. To further explore the role of transcriptional enhancers in establishing the developmental pattern of gene rearrangement at the TCR alpha/delta locus, we substituted the TCR alpha enhancer (E alpha) in place of E delta within the transgenic minilocus. We found that V-D-J rearrangement of the E alpha+ minilocus was restricted to the alpha beta T cell subset. Further, we found that although V-D-J rearrangement of the E delta+ minilocus was initiated in the fetal thymus by day 14.5, V-D-J rearrangement of the E alpha+ minilocus did not occur until fetal day 16.5. Finally, whereas V-D-J rearrangement of the E delta+ minilocus is essentially completed within the triple negative population of postnatal thymocytes, V-D-J rearrangement of the E alpha+ minilocus is only initiated late within this population. Since the properties of minilocus rearrangement under the control of E delta and E alpha parallel the properties of V delta-D delta-J delta and V alpha-J alpha rearrangement at the endogenous TCR alpha/delta locus, we conclude that these enhancers play an important role in orchestrating the developmental program of rearrangements at this locus.

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