The frequency of T cell receptor (TcR) type and the variable gene segment expression in human intraepithelial lymphocytes (IEL) from the large intestinal mucosa were studied by flow cytometry and immunohistochemistry, and compared to those in peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) - or lamina propria lymphocytes (LPL). Employing anti-gamma/delta TcR and anti-alpha/beta TcR monoclonal antibodies (mAb), flow cytometric analysis revealed that a large fraction of IEL (37%) are gamma/delta T cells, whereas within LPL and PBL gamma/delta T cells comprise a minor population (4.6% and 3.8% respectively). At these sites the number of gamma/delta T cells labeled with anti-CD8 mAb were 58.3% (IEL), 43.3% (LPL) and 24.4% (PBL). In situ staining of serial sections of large intestine confirmed these results. Hence, these data suggest a selective accumulation of CD8+ gamma/delta T cells in the human epithelium of the large intestine. Furthermore, analysis of gamma/delta TcR bearing IEL+ disclosed a marked preponderance of cells using the V delta 1 gene segment, whereas gamma/delta TcR+ PBL preferentially express V delta 2. Strikingly, the majority of these V delta 1+ IEL bear the CD8 molecule on their surface. These results are taken as evidence for a selective localization of V delta 1+ CD8+ gamma/delta T cells in the epithelium of the large intestine.