A Direct Estimate of the Human αβ T Cell Receptor Diversity

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Science  29 Oct 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5441, pp. 958-961
DOI: 10.1126/science.286.5441.958

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Generation and maintenance of an effective repertoire of T cell antigen receptors are essential to the immune system, yet the number of distinct T cell receptors (TCRs) expressed by the estimated 1012 T cells in the human body is not known. In this study, TCR gene amplification and sequencing showed that there are about 106 different β chains in the blood, each pairing, on the average, with at least 25 different α chains. In the memory subset, the diversity decreased to 1 × 105 to 2 × 105 different β chains, each pairing with only a single α chain. Thus, the naı̈ve repertoire is highly diverse, whereas the memory compartment, here one-third of the T cell population, contributes less than 1 percent of the total diversity.

  • * Present address: Department of Virology, Haartman Institute, University of Helsinki, Haartmaninkatu 3, FIN-00014 Helsinki, Finland.

  • To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: petteri.arstila{at}

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