It is known that rearrangement of the T cell antigen receptor (TCR) gene occurs in the thymus during T cell development and consequently results both in the deletion of DNA between the variable (V) and diversity/joining segments and in the formation of a circular DNA with recombination signal sequences. Here, we provide evidence that V alpha 14+ TCR gene rearrangements take place in extrathymic sites, such as bone marrow, liver, and intestine, but not in spleen, because we were able to detect frequent productive and nonproductive V alpha 14+ coding and signal sequences as a result of TCR rearrangements in extrathymic sites. Similar findings were also detected in athymic mice. Quantitative analysis shows that the relative amounts of V alpha 14 gene-mediated signal sequences in extrathymic tissues are higher than those in thymus. On the contrary, TCR rearrangements of V alpha 1.1 T cells, which are known to develop in the thymus, were mainly detected in the thymus, Peyer's patch, and spleen, but not in other extrathymic tissues, showing patterns distinct from V alpha 14 TCR rearrangements. These findings are evidence of extrathymic development of V alpha 14+ T cells. Differential characteristic TCR rearrangement patterns also indicate that distinct TCR repertoires are generated in different lymphoid tissues.

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