The observation that gamma delta T lymphocytes react to mycobacteria has provided an important model for investigation of these cells in the immune response to infection. One important question regarding human gamma delta T cells is the breadth of the T cell repertoire in response to specific pathogens. The present study was undertaken to characterize, in molecular terms, the mycobacterium-specific gamma delta TCR repertoire. Mononuclear cells were isolated from the peripheral blood and pleural fluid of patients with tuberculous pleuritis and stimulated with Mycobacterium tuberculosis in vitro. Cytofluorometric analysis of the expressed gamma delta TCR repertoire of M. tuberculosis expanded cells was performed using anti-V region antibodies. The majority of responding gamma delta T cells express a receptor composed of V delta 2 and V gamma 9 chains. Molecular analysis by PCR amplification confirmed use of the V delta 2 and V gamma 9 gene segments in these cells, and demonstrated predominant usage of J delta 1 and J gamma P gene segments. Analysis of nucleotide sequence at the V-J junctions revealed extensive diversity including nucleotide deletions of V, D, and J gene segments and nucleotide segment additions. The predicted amino acid sequences further indicates diversity in the V-J encoded region of the protein chains. The data indicate that M. tuberculosis-driven expansion of gamma delta T cells in vitro depends on specific pairing of the V delta 2 and V gamma 9 polypeptide chains, without apparent selection of explicit V-J junction regions.