Despite extensive investigation, the pathogenesis of T cell depletions that characterize AIDS has not been elucidated. To study this process further, we evaluated T cell antigen receptor beta-chain variable gene (TCRBV) repertoires in peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) of 23 HIV-infected patients. Expression levels of 28 TCRBV were determined by multiprobe RNase protection assay after polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplifications. Abnormal expansions (> 2 s.d. from mean normal values) were frequent in HIV CD4, accounting for 26% of total measured TCRBV in this population. The number and magnitude of abnormalities among individuals were inversely proportional to their CD4 counts (P < 0.012 and P < 0.01, respectively). While abnormalities were not randomly distributed among TCRBV subfamilies, no particular genes were expanded or contracted among all patients. Only 14% of CD8 TCRBV were proportionally expanded (P < 0.01 compared with CD4), and there were limited concordances between paired CD8 and CD4 repertoires among individuals. CDR3 length analyses and TCRBV sequencing showed that most CD4 expansions comprised clonal or oligoclonal populations. Thus, T cell responses in HIV patients are characterized by severe TCRBV biases and clonal expansions among CD4 subsets, and these processes are exaggerated with disease progression. The heterogeneity and oligoclonality of the TCRBV expansions are consistent with responses to HIV-encoded or other conventional antigens rather than superantigenic effects. The presence of CD4 clonal proliferations in these patients may be important in the pathogenesis of HIV, and the absence or reduction of many T cell specificities due to oligoclonal expansions may increase susceptibility to opportunistic infections.