MRL mice homozygous for the lpr/lpr gene develop a massive lymphadenopathy caused by the accumulation of CD4-CD8-, Thy-1-positive T cells that express B220. This phenotypically unusual T cell population coexists with normal, B220- T cells in lpr/lpr animals. To investigate the origin and differentiation pathway of B220+ T cells, the expression of a panel of developmentally regulated cell surface markers including TCR, CD4, CD8, Thy-1, and B220 was examined. Thymocytes and peripheral T lymphocytes from lpr/lpr mice were analyzed by four-color flow cytometry. The results showed that both B220+ and B220- thymocytes contained all of CD4-CD8-, CD4+CD8+, and CD4 or CD8 single positive T cell subpopulation in the lpr thymus. Expression of the V beta 11 TCR, measured by flow cytometry and reverse polymerase chain reaction, was demonstrated in lpr thymus. However, the number of T cells expressing V beta 11 was greatly reduced in both the B220+ and B220- T cell populations in lymph node, spleen, and liver. Taken together, the data provide evidence for maturation and selection of a distinct population of B220+ T cells in the thymus of MRL lpr/lpr mice.