Previous studies from our laboratory and those of others suggested the possibility that the T-cell antigen receptor alpha (TCR alpha) chain from some T cells can be released in a soluble form and can have antigen-specific immunoregulatory activity. We have analyzed this phenomenon by in vitro transcription and translation (IVTT) of a cDNA encoding a TCR alpha chain (A1.1 TCR alpha) suspected of having such activity. We found that TCR alpha, but not TCR beta, protein produced in this way showed antigen-specific regulatory activity in an in vitro immune-response assay. Protein derived from truncated forms of the A1.1 TCR alpha cDNA had activity providing that, in addition to the variable (V) and joining (J) regions of the alpha chain (VJ alpha), at least the first 25 amino acids of the alpha chain of the constant (C) region (C alpha) were present. Addition of an irrelevant protein sequence to the VJ alpha failed to impart activity to the molecule, suggesting that the C alpha requirement is not simply for stabilization of the resulting protein. These results are discussed in the context of other recent studies on the immunoregulatory activity of soluble TCR alpha molecules, and the possible physiological relevance of these observations is considered.