In vitro transformation of rabbit peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) with human T lymphotropic virus-I (HTLV)-infected human or rabbit cells resulted in CD4- CD8- cell lines, some of which caused acute leukemia when injected into rabbits. Structural analyses of the proviruses from cell lines with diverse pathogenic effects provided no clear correlation with lethality. The rabbit lines were provisionally designated T cells because they express interleukin 2R (IL-2R) and CD5 and lack surface immunoglobulin, but none express functional T cell receptor (TCR) alpha or beta transcripts. A more detailed characterization of the HTLV-I-infected cells was required to determine cell lineage and its potential influence on pathogenic consequences. Probes for rabbit TCR gamma and delta genes were derived and used to detect gamma and delta TCR RNA transcripts, identifying the in vitro transformed lines as gamma/delta T cells. CD4+ and CD8+ lines were derived from PBMC of HTLV-I-infected rabbits and CD4+ TCR-alpha/beta HTLV-I lines were derived from rabbit thymus, eliminating the possibility that the HTLV-I isolates used here transform only CD4- CD8- TCR-gamma/delta cells. The percentage of gamma/delta cells in rabbit PBMC is relatively high (23% in adult rabbits); this with diminution of CD4+ and CD8+ cells in IL-2-supplemented PBMC or thymocyte cultures may account for selection of rabbit HTLV-I-infected gamma/delta T cell lines in vitro. The availability of well-characterized T cell lines with diverse in vivo effects in the rabbit HTLV-I disease model allows evaluation of roles played by cell type in HTLV-I-mediated disease.