We describe transgenic mice carrying germline variable gene segments associated with either the T cell receptor (TCR) beta or alpha gene enhancers (E beta or E alpha). Transgenic constructs underwent high rates of site-specific rearrangements predominantly in T cells from independent mice. Rearrangements of the E beta-containing transgenes began at different stages of T cell differentiation in embryonic and adult thymus than did the E alpha-containing ones, with a pattern superimposable upon the patterns of TCR beta or TCR alpha gene expression, respectively. We demonstrate that sequences within the TCR beta and TCR alpha gene enhancers confer tissue- and stage-specificity upon the V(D)J recombination events affecting adjacent gene segments. The patterns of transgene expression also gave information on developmental events and lineage relationships (gamma delta versus alpha beta) during T cell development.