A human leukemia cell line, SUP-T13, can gain and lose TCR/CD3 expression at rates incompatible with spontaneous mutation. In this study, we determined (i) the generality of this phenomenon among other T cell lines, (ii) the specificity of this phenomenon to the TCR/CD3 complex, and (iii) the molecular mechanism of TCR/CD3 loss in the SUP-T13 cell line at a biochemical level. We show that two other T cell lines can undergo gain and loss of TCR/CD3 expression at similar rates. However, class I MHC molecules do not switch expression on and off, demonstrating that such switching is not an artifact of the analysis. To determine the mechanism for loss of surface TCR/CD3 expression, pulse-chase labeling and immunoprecipitation were performed on SUP-T13 TCR/CD3 negative cells. These analyses revealed that TCR alpha proteins are produced, but do not covalently associate with TCR beta-CD3 proteins in the negative cells. Thus, these variants represent a novel level of posttranslational regulation of TCR/CD3 expression, namely, the disulfide linkage of alpha and beta TCR chains.