The T200 glycoproteins of T cells were analyzed at different stages of T cell development. Immunoprecipitation and analysis by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis revealed that Lyt-2-L3T4-, and Lyt-2+L3T4+ thymocytes had similar T200 proteins, whereas Lyt-2+L3T4- and Lyt-2-L3T4+ thymocytes expressed a distinct set of T200 molecules. This result indicated a molecular switch in regulation of T200 protein expression upon differentiation of thymocytes to mature phenotype T cells. Further modifications were evident when the T200 proteins of peripheral T cell subsets were examined. In particular L3T4+ T cells expressed T200 proteins of m.w. 220,000, 200,000, and 175,000, whereas Lyt-2+ lymph node T cells expressed an additional T200 protein of m.w. 235,000. Antigenic differences in the T200 glyco-proteins of peripheral L3T4+ and Lyt-2+ T cells were also detected. The anti-B220 monoclonal antibody, 14.8, reacted with lymph node Lyt-2+ T cells but did not react with lymph node L3T4+T cells or with Lyt-2+L3T4- thymocytes. This finding demonstrated a lineage-specific modification of the T200 protein of Lyt-2+ T cells that occurred after exit of these cells from the thymus into peripheral lymphoid organs. This modification apparently occurred on the m.w. 235,000 and 220,000 proteins since these species were precipitated by 14.8, whereas the others were not. In vitro growth and activation also resulted in further T200 antigen alterations. The monoclonal antibody, RA3, which reacts with the B220 antigen of B cells but, unlike 14.8, does not react with any peripheral T cells, showed significant reactivity with Lyt-2+ cytotoxic T cell (CTL) clones but not with L3T4+ T helper cell clones. CTL clones were also 14.8+ but T helper cell clones were not. Immunoprecipitation by 14.8 and RA3 of T200 proteins from CTL clones yielded a single protein of m.w. 240,000 that co-migrated with the B cell form of T200. Overall, the results indicate the presence of developmentally regulated mechanisms that control T200 glycoprotein expression during T cell differentiation in the thymus and in peripheral lymphoid organs.