Rather unexpectedly, major histocompatibility complex class II-deficient mice have a significant population of peripheral CD4+ T lymphocytes. We have investigated these cells at the population and clonal levels. CD4+ T lymphocytes from class II-deficient animals are thymically derived, appear early in ontogeny, exhibit the phenotype of resting memory cells, are potentially functional by several criteria, and have a diverse T cell receptor repertoire. They do not include substantially elevated numbers of NK1.1+ cells. Hybridomas derived after polyclonal stimulation of the CD4+ lymphocytes from class II-deficient animals include a subset with an unusual reactivity pattern, responding to splenocytes from many mouse strains including the strain of origin. Most members of this subset recognize the major histocompatibility complex class Ib molecule CD1; their heterogeneous reactivities and T cell receptor usage further suggest the involvement of peptides and/or highly variable posttranslational modifications.

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