During T cell development the T cell receptor (TCR) beta chain is expressed before the TCR alpha chain. Experiments in TCR beta transgenic severe combined immune deficiency (SCID) mice have shown that the TCR beta protein can be expressed on the cell surface of immature thymocytes in the absence of the TCR alpha chain and that the TCR beta protein controls T cell development with regard to cell number, CD4/CD8 expression and allelic exclusion of the TCR beta chain. Subsequent experiments have shown that on the surface of thymocytes from TCR beta transgenic SCID mice the TCR beta protein can be expressed in a monomeric and dimeric form whereas only the dimeric form was found on the surface of a TCR beta-transfected, immature T cell line. The results presented here show that normal thymocytes from 16-day-old fetuses likewise express only the dimeric form and that the monomeric form on the surface of thymocytes from transgenic mice results from glycosyl phosphatidylinositol linkage. Our results show for the first time that under physiological conditions a TCR beta dimer can be expressed on the cell surface without the TCR alpha chain.