The Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome (WAS) is a severe immunodeficiency and platelet deficiency disease arising from an X-linked defect. The disease is correctable by transplantation of hematopoietic stem cells, but the product of the defective gene is unidentified and the number of defects in patient blood cells is large. The current hurdle is the need to identify the early pathogenic event(s) that are the cause of other defects. As a step toward this goal, we have generated and examined a panel of interleukin 2-dependent allospecific T cell lines from peripheral lymphocytes of seven WAS patients and five normal individuals. WAS cell lines, like normal lines, undergo vigorous proliferation when challenged with specific allostimulant or with phorbol myristate acetate and ionomycin. Both normal and WAS T cell lines express cell surface molecules CD2, CD3, T cell receptor-alpha/beta, human histocompatibility leukocyte antigen class I, CD45 and CD11a, and varying ratios of CD4 and CD8, and are negative for natural killer cell and monocyte surface molecules. WAS T cell lines express CD43 (sialophorin/leukosialin) with molecular weight and in an amount comparable with normal T cell lines. WAS T cell lines thus do not express defects in CD43 (decreased amount, abnormal molecular weight), previously documented in WAS circulating lymphocytes. On the other hand, as detected by scanning electron microscopy, WAS cell lines exhibit severe morphological abnormalities, including decreased size and density of the microvillus surface projections. The morphological abnormalities of WAS T cell lines are similar to, or more extensive than, those previously reported for WAS peripheral lymphocytes, indicating that the generation of morphological (cytoarchitectural) defects is an early pathogenic event in this disease. The findings suggest that the gene that is defective in the WAS encodes a protein that normally functions to maintain or regulate the cytoskeletal structure of blood cells.