To further define the origin, selection, and diversity of hepatic T cells, we have determined V beta gene expression profiles in double negative (DN, CD4-8-) and single positive (SP, CD4+8- or CD8+4-) alpha beta + liver T cells of DBA/2 mice. These I-E+ mice express mouse mammary tumor (Mtv) provirus-encoded endogenous superantigens of the Mlsa,c type, and thus display deletions/depletions of several V beta-bearing SP cells. Total liver alpha beta + T cells of these mice exhibited an overall V beta expression profile similar to splenic T cells, with the notable exception of high V beta 7 and V beta 8.1 expression. As previously reported, DN alpha beta + T cells were enriched highly in the liver. This subset exhibited a V beta expression profile similar to thymic DN alpha beta + cells with deletions/depletions in several V beta s, but high V beta 7 expression in both populations. Surprisingly, hepatic CD4+ cells also displayed high V beta 7 expression compared with splenic T cells, suggesting that hepatic DN alpha beta + and CD4+ T cells are selected via a common pathway. The V beta 7-expressing DN alpha beta + and CD4+ liver T cell populations were polyclonal, as evidenced by cloning and sequencing. High V beta 7 expression in these cells was undiminished with age. On the basis of V beta repertoire and surface phenotype, DN alpha beta + and/or certain CD4+ T cells seem to constitute a distinct population primarily found in the liver, thymus, and bone marrow. These cells may originate from SP T cells that have down-regulated their accessory molecules under certain activation conditions and, because of the accompanying expression of particular adhesion molecules, they accumulate in tissues such as the liver and thymus.