Exclusion and inclusion of T cell receptor (TCR) genes were analyzed in alpha beta TCR transgenic mice. Both transgenes are expressed unusually early on the surface of CD4-8-, HSA+, IL-2R- thymocytes. These progenitor cells give rise to progeny, which at the single-cell level contains endogenous alpha but not beta TCR-RNA as well as protein, in addition to products encoded by the transgenes. Thus, the surface expression of an alpha beta TCR does not prevent further alpha TCR rearrangement in immature thymocytes that still transcribe RAG-1 and RAG-2 genes. Reduced levels of RAG-1 and RAG-2 RNA are detectable only in CD4+8+ TCR high cells, which result from positive selection in the thymus. The results suggest that a developing T cell may try different alpha beta TCRs for binding to thymic MHC ligands, and that recombination at the alpha locus ceases only after positive selection.