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EMBO J. 1991 Apr;10(4):903-12.

The CD3-gamma and CD3-delta subunits of the T cell antigen receptor can be expressed within distinct functional TCR/CD3 complexes.

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  • 1Laboratory of Molecular Immunology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA 02115.


The T cell receptor for antigen (TCR) consists of two glycoproteins containing variable regions (TCR-alpha/beta or TCR-gamma/delta) which are expressed on the cell surface in association with at least four invariant proteins (CD3-gamma, -delta, -epsilon and -zeta). CD3-gamma and CD3-delta chains are highly homologous, especially in the cytoplasmic domain. The similarity observed in their genomic organization and their proximity in the chromosome indicate that both genes arose from duplication of a single gene. Here, we provide several lines of evidence which indicate that in human and murine T cells which expressed both the CD3-gamma and CD3-delta chains on their surface, the TCR/CD3 complex consisted of a mixture of alpha beta gamma epsilon zeta and alpha beta delta epsilon zeta complexes rather than a single alpha beta gamma delta epsilon zeta complex. First, a CD3-gamma specific antibody failed to co-immunoprecipitate CD3-delta and conversely, several CD3-delta specific antibodies did not coprecipitate CD3-gamma. Secondly, analysis of a panel of human and murine T cell lines demonstrated that CD3-gamma and CD3-delta were expressed at highly variable ratios on their surface. This suggested that these chains were not expressed as a single complex. Thirdly, CD3-gamma and CD3-delta competed for binding to CD3-epsilon in transfected COS cells, suggesting that CD3-gamma and CD3-delta formed mutually exclusive complexes. The existence of these two forms of TCR/CD3 complexes could have important implications in the understanding of T cell receptor function and its role in T cell development.

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