The function and specificity of gamma delta T cells remain enigmatic. Dendritic epidermal T cells (DETC) expressing an invariant gamma delta TCR represent a well established model system to investigate these key issues. Accumulating evidence supports the initial observation that recognition of a keratinocyte self-antigen by DETC proceeds without a requirement for MHC gene products. In addition, recent data have identified bioactive polypeptides expressed by DETC but not by most other T cells. For example, keratinocyte growth factor appears to be exclusively produced by activated DETC and intestinal intraepithelial gamma delta cells. These findings suggest that DETC may recognize antigen in novel ways as well as perform specialized functions complementary to those normally attributed to T cells.