We examined alpha-, beta-, and gamma-T cell receptor (TCR) gene activation within acute lymphoblastic leukemias (ALLs) that represent early stages of B and T cell development. We wished to determine if TCR rearrangement and expression was lineage restricted, showed any developmental hierarchy, or could identify new subsets of T cells. Rearrangement of gamma and beta TCR genes occurred early in development but in no set order, and most T-ALLs (22/26) were of sufficient maturity to have rearranged both genes. T-ALLs preferentially rearranged C gamma 2 versus the C gamma 1 complex; no preference within the beta locus was apparent. Once rearranged, the beta TCR continued to be expressed (11/13), whereas the gamma TCR was rarely expressed (3/14). The alpha TCR was expressed only in more mature T-ALLs (8/14) that usually displayed T3. The 3A-1 T cell associated antigen appeared earliest in development followed by T11 and T3. Within pre-B cell ALL a higher incidence of lineage spillover was noted for gamma TCR rearrangements (8/17) than for beta rearrangements (3/17). This also contrasts with the only occasional rearrangement of immunoglobulin (Ig) heavy chains (3/25) in T-ALL. However, in pre-B ALL the pattern of gamma TCR usage was distinct from that of T cells, with the C gamma 1 complex utilized more frequently. Almost all ALLs could be classified as pre-B or T cell in type by combining Ig and TCR genes with monoclonal antibodies recognizing surface antigens, although examples of lineage duality were noted. Unique subpopulations of cells were discovered including two genetically uncommitted ALLs that failed to rearrange either Ig or TCR loci. Moreover, two T lymphoblasts were identified that possessed the T3 molecule but failed to express alpha plus beta TCR genes. These T-ALLs may represent a fortuitous transformation of T cell subsets with alternative T3-Ti complexes.