The newly described T-cell receptor (TCR) delta locus is located inside the TCR alpha locus, between variable region (V)alpha and joining region (J)alpha. Although the delta and alpha TCR genes are physically linked on the same chromosome, they are sequentially expressed during T-cell development. This implies the existence of a highly efficient regulatory mechanism by which these two genes are independently rearranged. We have recently described a genetic element 'T early alpha' (TEA) in humans transcribed in foetal thymocytes, spliced alternatively to constant region (C)alpha, and located between the TCR-delta locus (5') and the group of J alpha segments (3'). Importantly, TEA flanks a common site of rearrangement in the thymus, and distinguishes cells using TCR-gamma/delta (TEA in germline configuration) from cells using TCR-alpha/beta (TEA deleted on both chromosomes). In order to understand this TEA-associated recombination we analysed genomic clones representing these thymic rearrangements. We show that the TEA-associated recombination deletes the delta locus before productive (V delta D delta J delta) rearrangement. The diversity (D)delta and J delta regions, which provide the major source of delta gene diversity, are eliminated as a consequence of delta gene deletion and cannot then be used in conjunction with an alpha-TCR. We propose that the TEA-associated deletion of TCR-delta precedes the formation of an alpha-TCR and could down-regulate TCR-delta formation in maturing thymus.