T lymphocytes normally express their Ag receptors in association with the CD3 proteins, which include CD3zeta. In CD3zeta eta(null) mice thymic and peripheral T lymphocytes do not express the TCR/CD3 complex on their surface due to retention in the endoplasmic reticulum of the remaining polypeptide chains. However, intestinal intraepithelial lymphocytes (iIEL) of CD3zeta eta(null) mice do express surface TCR, because the Fc epsilonRI gamma chain replaced the CD3zeta chain in the TCR/CD3 complex. Here we report that in a subset of CD8alpha alpha+ iIEL the presence of the Fc epsilonRI gamma chain could be accounted for by the surface expression of the Fc gammaRIII(CD16) complex. Because in wild-type (wt) mice only CD16+ iIEL coexpressed Fc epsilonRI gamma and CD3zeta, we concluded that the presence of Fc epsilonRI gamma was dictated by its required participation of CD16 complex. CD8alpha alpha+ iIEL bearing CD16 and B220 were also detected in the intestinal mucosa of RAG-2(null) mice from 12 days after birth onward. Two independent experimental settings were used in an attempt to demonstrate that CD16+ iIEL matured into CD16- T cells. First, in the RAG-2(null) mice, iIEL responded to in vivo administration of an anti-CD3epsilon mAb by progression to a more mature stage of development, characterized by a loss of CD16 and B220. Secondly, a conversion to CD16- iIEL occurred upon transfer of wt CD16+ iIEL into RAG-2(null) mice. We conclude from these experiments that in both RAG-2(null) and wt mice, a precursor/progeny relationship may exists between CD16+ B220+ CD8alpha alpha+ and CD16- B220- CD8alpha alpha+ iIEL.