Allelic exclusion at the T cell receptor alpha locus TCR-alpha is incomplete, as demonstrated by the presence of a number of T lymphocyte clones carrying two expressed alpha chain products. Such dual alpha chain T cells have been proposed to play a role in autoimmunity, for example, because of a second TCR-alpha beta pair having bypassed negative selection by virtue of low expression. We examined this hypothesis by generating mice of various autoimmunity-prone strains carrying a hemizygous targeted disruption of the TCR-alpha locus, therefore unable to produce dual alpha chain T cells. Normal mice have a low but significant proportion of T cells expressing two cell-surface TCR-alpha chains that could be enumerated by comparison to TCR-alpha hemizygotes, which have none. Susceptibility to various autoimmune diseases was analyzed in TCR-alpha hemizygotes that had been backcrossed to disease-prone strains for several generations. The incidence of experimental allergic encephalomyelitis and of lupus is not affected by the absence of dual TCR-alpha cells. In contrast, nonobese diabetic (NOD) TCR alpha hemizygotes are significantly protected from cyclophosphamide-accelerated insulitis and diabetes. Thus, dual alpha T cells may play an important role in some but not all autoimmune diseases. Furthermore, since protected and susceptible NOD mice both show strong spontaneous responses to glutamic acid decarboxylase, responses to this antigen, if necessary for diabetetogenesis, are not sufficient.

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