We describe transgenic mice that carry an antigen receptor gene minilocus comprised of germline T cell receptor (TCR) beta variable gene elements (V, D and J) linked to an immunoglobulin (Ig) C mu constant region gene with or without a DNA segment containing the Ig heavy chain transcriptional enhancer (E mu). Transgenic constructs lacking the E mu-containing segment did not undergo detectable rearrangement in any tissue of six independent transgenic lines. In contrast, transgenic constructs containing this DNA segment underwent rearrangement at high frequency in lymphoid tissues, but not other tissues, of four independent lines. Analyses of purified B and T cells, as well as B and T cell lines, from transgenic animals demonstrated that the E mu-containing segment within the construct allowed partial TCR gene assembly (D to J) in both B and T cells. However, complete TCR gene rearrangement within the construct (V to DJ) occurred only in T cells. Therefore, we have demonstrated elements that can control two separate aspects of TCR beta VDJ rearrangement within this construct. One lies within the E mu-containing DNA segment and represents a dominant, cis-acting element that initiates lymphoid cell-specific D beta to J beta rearrangement; various considerations suggest this activity may be related to that of the E mu element. The second element provides T cell-specific control of complete (V beta to DJ beta) variable region gene assembly; it correlates in activity with expression of the unrearranged V beta segment.