T-cell receptor (TCR) ß-chain usage and expression of the CD3, CD4, and CD8 differentiation antigens were analyzed in 14 spontaneous AKR lymphomas. Lymphoma cells massively infiltrated and/or proliferated in the organs analyzed (thymus, spleen, and mesenteric lymph nodes), giving rise to a loss of organ structure. One lymphoma occurred only in the thymus, and failed to express CD3, CD4, and CD8. All other lymphomas expressed the CD3/TCR complex. With respect to CD4 and CD8 expression, the lymphomas were either double-negative (DN), double-positive (DP), or single-positive (SP). The frequency of DP (CD4+8+) lymphomas was low compared to the frequency of DP thymocytes in a normal AKR thymus. A substantial heterogeneity was seen in the intensity of CD4 and CD8 expression among various lymphomas, which was independent of the level of CD3 expression. Considering TCR V ß gene family usage, 2 out of 14 lymphomas expressed V ß6. Normally, V ß6+ thymocytes are deleted from the thymocyte pool at the immature DP stage of T-cell development in AKR mice. These data support the hypothesis that the lymphocytes in the immature DP stage of T-cell development are susceptible to the induction of AKR lymphomagenesis. The presence of V ß6+ lymphoma cells indicates that the lymphomagenesis is accompanied by a defective clonal deletion of cells expressing a possible autoreactive TCR.