The relationship between the structure of the T cell antigen receptor (TCR)-CD3 complex and development of NK1.1+ T cells was investigated. The TCR complex of freshly isolated NK1.1+ TCR-alpha/beta+ thymocytes contained CD3 zeta homodimers and CD zeta-FcR gamma heterodimers, whereas that of the majority of NK1.1- T cells did not contain FcR gamma. The function of CD3 zeta and FcR gamma in the development of NK1.1+ T cells was determined by analyzing CD3 zeta- and FcR gamma-deficient mice. The NK1.1+ T cells from wild-type and CD3 zeta-deficient mice had equal levels of CD3 expression. However, the development of NK1.1+ TCR-alpha/beta+ T cells was almost completely disrupted in thymus and spleen in CD3 zeta-deficient mice, whereas no alteration was observed in FcR gamma-deficient mice. In contrast, the number of novel NK1.1+ TCR-gamma/delta+ thymocytes expressing a surface phenotype similar to NK1.1+ TCR-alpha/beta+ thymocytes increased approximately six times in CD3 zeta-deficient mice. These findings establish the distinct roles of the CD3 zeta chain in the development of the following different thymic T cell compartments: NK1.1- TCR+, NK1.1+ TCR-alpha/beta+, and NK1.1+ TCR-gamma/delta+ thymocytes, which cannot be replaced by CD3 eta or FcR gamma chains.

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