To characterize the T cells involved in the pathogenesis of cerebral malaria (CM) induced by infection with Plasmodium berghei ANKA clone 1.49L (PbA 1.49L), the occurrence of the disease was assessed in mice lacking T cells of either the alphabeta or gammadelta lineage (TCRalphabeta(-/-) or TCRgammadelta(-/-)). TCRgammadelta(-/-) mice were susceptible to CM, whereas all TCRalphabeta(-/-) mice were resistant, suggesting that T cells of the alphabeta lineage are important in the genesis of CM. The repertoire of TCR V(beta) segment gene expression was examined by flow cytometry in B10.D2 mice, a strain highly susceptible to CM induced by infection with PbA 1.49L. In these mice, CM was associated with an increase of T cells bearing the V(beta)8.1, 2 segments in the peripheral blood lymphocytes. Most V(beta)8.1, 2(+) T cells from peripheral blood lymphocytes of the mice that developed CM belonged to the CD8 subset, and exhibited the CD69(+), CD44(high) and CD62L(low) phenotype surface markers. The link between the increase in V(beta)8.1, 2(+) T cells and the neuropathological consequences of PbA infection was strengthened by the observation that the occurrence of CM was significantly reduced in mice treated with KJ16 antibodies against the V(beta)8.1 and V(beta)8.2 chains, and in mice rendered deficient in V(beta)8.1(+) T cells by a mouse mammary tumor virus superantigen.