The TCR is composed of two chains (alpha/beta) containing variable regions associated at the cell surface with invariant chains (CD3 gamma-, delta-, epsilon-, and zeta/eta chains). The latter control assembly and surface expression of the TCR/CD3 complex, as well as its cytoplasmic association with signal transduction relays. In differentiated CTL, stimulation through the TCR leads to the transcriptional activation of genes coding secreted cytokines such as gamma-IFN as well as transcription-independent activation of the lytic machinery. It is not known which of the CD3 components is necessary to transduce the required signals. CD3 gamma- and delta-chains have high sequence homology, in particular in their cytoplasmic domain, and it has been proposed that alpha beta gamma epsilon zeta and alpha beta delta, epsilon zeta may be expressed and function in signal transduction independently. Here, we characterize a CTL clone that has selectively lost expression of the CD3 delta mRNA. This results in expression of partial CD3 complexes devoid of TCR alpha beta chains at the surface of the clone, which are not functional for activation of cytolysis or for gamma-IFN production. Transfection of the clone with either the native or a cytoplasmic exon-deleted CD3 delta gene restores full TCR/CD3 surface expression as well as Ag- or CD3-mediated activation for killing and for gamma-IFN production, indicating that the CD3 delta chain is essential for surface expression of the TCR alpha beta, but that the CD3 delta cytoplasmic portion is not required either for complex assembly or for signal transduction involved in the functions studied.