The development of CD8+ intestinal intraepithelial T lymphocytes (IEL) was analyzed in mice that are deficient in the expression of MHC class I molecules, owing to either a mutated beta 2-microglobulin (beta 2m) gene or a mutated transporter associated with Ag processing 1 (TAP1) gene, and in mice doubly homozygous for beta 2m and TAPI mutations. In all mutant mice, the population size of major CD8 alpha alpha+ and CD8 alpha beta+ alpha beta-IEL subsets was reduced drastically, and this resulted in a conspicuous decrease in the total number of alpha beta-IEL. Concomitantly, a compensatory two- to threefold increase in the number of gamma delta-IEL consisting mostly of CD8 alpha alpha+ subset was noted. In radiation bone marrow chimeras, this wild-type/mutant phenotype was determined by the genotype of radioresistant host cells, but was not determined by the genotype of reconstituting bone marrow-derived cells. In beta 2m X TCR-delta double mutant mice, however, the CD8 alpha alpha+ but not CD8 alpha beta+ alpha beta-IEL subset expanded dramatically. Thus, in the absence of gamma delta-IEL, alpha beta-IEL in beta 2m-deficient mice outnumbered those in wild-type littermates. These results indicate that the generation of CD8 alpha alpha+ lymphocyte population of alpha beta- and gamma delta-IEL is not dependent, but that of CD8 alpha beta+ lymphocyte population of alpha beta-IEL is dependent on beta 2m- and/or TAP1-dependent MHC class I molecules, expressed by the controlling cells present in the anatomical site, where the development of IEL takes place.