The CD8alphabeta heterodimer functions as a coreceptor with the TCR, influencing the outcome of CD8(+) T cell responses to pathogen-infected and tumor cells. In contrast to the murine CD8B gene, the human gene encodes alternatively spliced variants with different cytoplasmic tails (M-1, M-2, M-3, and M-4). At present, little is known about the expression patterns and functional significance of such variants. We used quantitative RT-PCR to demonstrate differential mRNA expression patterns of these splice variants in thymocytes and in resting, memory, and activated primary human CD8(+) T cells. In total CD8(+) T cells, mRNA levels of the M-1 variant were the most predominant and levels of M-3 were the least detected. The M-4 isoform was predominant in effector memory CD8(+) T cells. Upon stimulation of CD8(+) T cells, the M-2 variant mRNA levels were elevated 10-20-fold relative to resting cells in contrast to the other isoforms. Curiously, the M-2 isoform was not expressed on the cell surface in transfected cell lines. Using fluorescent chimeras of the extracellular domain of mouse CD8beta fused to the cytoplasmic tails of each isoform, the M-2 isoform was localized in a lysosomal compartment regulated by ubiquitination of a lysine residue (K215) in its cytoplasmic tail. In contrast, upon short-term stimulation, the M-2 protein localized to the cell surface with the TCR complex. The relatively recent evolution of CD8B gene splice variants in the chimpanzee/human lineage is most likely important for fine-tuning the CD8(+) T cell responses.