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A novel subset of T cells characterized by the expression of an invariant T cell antigen receptor (TCR) encoded by V alpha 24J alpha Q gene segments was investigated in patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc). Polymerase chain reaction analysis demonstrated that the V alpha 24 TCR repertoire was selectively used in CD4-CD8- double-negative T cells both in patients and in healthy individuals, while almost all families of TCR V alpha were expressed in single-positive T cell fractions. The V alpha 24+ double-negative T cells were increased by approximately fivefold in patients. However, sequence analysis clearly showed significant differences in the V alpha 24 TCR repertoire dominating in patients and healthy donors. In healthy individuals, the invariant V alpha 24J alpha Q was expanded and comprised 20-50% of the total TCR-alpha, while their selective reduction was observed in SSc patients who also showed expansion of invariant V alpha 24 TCR other than V alpha 24J alpha Q. Analogous to murine invariant V alpha 14J alpha 281 TCR, these results suggest that T cells with invariant V alpha 24J alpha Q TCR would function as regulatory T cells, whereas T cells bearing other invariant V alpha 24 TCR in SSc patients could be autoaggressive T cells in nature.