Antigen receptors on T cells, B cells, mast cells, and basophils all have cytoplasmic domains containing one or more copies of an immunoreceptor tyrosine-based activation motif (ITAM), tyrosine residues of which are phosphorylated upon receptor engagement in an early and obligatory event in the signaling cascade. How clustering of receptor extracellular domains leads to phosphorylation of cytoplasmic domain ITAMs is not known, and little structural or biochemical information is available for the ITAM-containing cytoplasmic domains. Here we investigate the conformation and oligomeric state of several immune receptor cytoplasmic domains, using purified recombinant proteins and a variety of biophysical and biochemical techniques. We show that all of the cytoplasmic domains of ITAM-containing signaling subunits studied are oligomeric in solution, namely, T cell antigen receptor zeta, CD3epsilon, CD3delta, and CD3gamma, B cell antigen receptor Igalpha and Igbeta, and Fc receptor FcepsilonRIgamma. For zeta(cyt), the oligomerization behavior is best described by a two-step monomer-dimer-tetramer fast dynamic equilibrium with dissociation constants in the order of approximately 10 microM (monomer-dimer) and approximately 1 mM (dimer-tetramer). In contrast to the other ITAM-containing proteins, Igalpha(cyt) forms stable dimers and tetramers even below 10 microM. Circular dichroic analysis reveals the lack of stable ordered structure of the cytoplasmic domains studied, and oligomerization does not change the random-coil-like conformation observed. The random-coil nature of zeta(cyt) was also confirmed by heteronuclear NMR. Phosphorylation of zeta(cyt) and FcepsilonRIgamma(cyt) does not significantly alter their oligomerization behavior. The implications of these results for transmembrane signaling and cellular activation by immune receptors are discussed.