We describe here our efforts to develop a systematic strategy for the enumeration and isolation of genes encoding T cell-specific, membrane-associated polypeptides. Of particular importance among the cDNA clones that we have isolated is one which encodes the beta chain of the murine T cell receptor for antigen. The gene product is strikingly similar to immunoglobulin in its variable (V), constant (C), joining (J), and diversity (D) - like elements and the ability of the latter three types of element to assort independently during differentiation. The genomic organization of the constant region locus which encodes this molecule consists of two tandemly arrayed units of the form JC/JC, where the J clusters consist of fourteen distinct elements, many of which may be functional. The two constant regions differ by only four amino acids and both are apparently expressed in T cells of the same phenotype, so they probably do not represent isotypes in the classical sense. The sequences flanking the V, D and J elements are also similar to the conserved heptamer and nonomer sequences of immunoglobulins thought to be important in the recombination of the specific gene segments. These similarities indicate both the common evolutionary origins of these loci and the strong selective pressure that must be operative. The T cell receptor locus differs somewhat from immunoglobulins in the large number of possible J region elements and to some extent in the hypervariable-framework regions of the V region. We and others have mapped this gene to chromosome 6 of the mouse, in the same portion of the chromosome but not closely linked the kappa locus. The significance of the predicted protein structure of the beta chain and its support of the one-receptor model of MHC-antigen recognition are discussed.