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T cells express either of the two forms of antigen-specific receptors, the alpha/beta and gamma/delta heterodimers. Their structure closely resembles that of immunoglobulins, and the variable part of the receptor molecule is created by somatic assembly of variable, diversity, and joining regions. The genetic structure of T cell receptor (TCR) genes and their rearrangement in T cell development have been elucidated in great detail in recent years. The human genes for the gamma and beta subunits are located on the short and long arms of chromosome 7, respectively, whereas the delta- and alpha-chain genes are located in tandem on the centromeric half of the long arm of chromosome 14. Expression of either alpha/beta or gamma/delta TCR complexes on T cells in the developing thymus is likely to proceed in an ordered fashion and results in the appearance of distinct T cell subpopulations. The process of DNA rearrangements required for the generation of functional variable region genes also predisposes lymphoid cells to aberrant DNA rearrangements, which can be detected as chromosomal abnormalities such as translocations and inversions. Molecular analysis of such aberrant rearrangements has shown that rearranging loci are fused to loci unrelated to antigen receptor genes. Furthermore, the breakpoint structures represent nonproductive intermediates in the hierarchy of physiological rearrangements. Accordingly, T cell tumors arising early in T cell development often carry chromosomal abnormalities involving the delta-chain locus, whereas tumors generated later in T cell development tend to show aberrations in the alpha-chain gene. This pattern seems to reflect the stage-specific accessibility of TCR loci for rearrangement by the recombinase machinery. This enzyme is guided by specific recombination signals that can sometimes also be found at the site of breakage on the participating locus in chromosomal abnormalities. Although some features of the mechanism of aberrant rearrangements are known, their biological consequences are less well understood. However, molecular analysis of the mechanism of chromosomal aberrations in T cell tumors suggests that their biological consequences may vary. Firm evidence for the pathogenic significance is missing for most of these lesions. This provides a challenge to molecular immunology to determine how chromosomal abnormalities are involved in tumor pathogenesis.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





2344 - 2359


Amino Acid Sequence, Base Sequence, Chromosome Aberrations, Gene Rearrangement, T-Lymphocyte, Humans, Lymphoma, Molecular Sequence Data, Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell