Germline variation in genes that encode the human T cell receptors (TCRs) may have an important influence in shaping the immune T cell repertoire. In this report we describe a frequent null allele of the human V beta 18 gene, resulting from a nucleotide substitution that creates a stop codon (CGA<-->TGA). Approximately 11% of the population tested was homozygous for this null allele, indicating that this is a frequent "hole in the repertoire." We confirmed that there is a greatly reduced (undetectable) level of V beta 18 mRNA in peripheral blood lymphocytes from an individual homozygous for this null allele. In addition, all heterozygous individuals expressed detectable levels of only the functional V beta 18 allele in their peripheral blood lymphocytes. Two other DNA polymorphisms were identified in V beta 18, one of which would result in an amino acid substitution in an expressed V beta 18 gene. Genotypes for all three of these V beta 18 DNA polymorphisms were determined in a group of unrelated individuals. Statistical analyses of the associations between alleles of the V beta 18 polymorphisms and those of other DNA polymorphisms in the TCR beta locus suggested a close physical proximity between the V beta 18 gene and the 3' end of the C beta 2 region. This localization of human V beta 18 had been previously predicted by the sequence homology between human V beta 18 and mouse V beta 14, a V gene segment previously mapped to 3' of the mouse C beta genes. We confirmed this localization of the human V beta 18 gene by isolating a cosmid clone that contains both the V beta 18 and C beta 2 segments. Mapping by restriction enzyme digestion and by the polymerase chain reaction indicated that the V beta 18 gene segment is approximately 9 kb 3' of the C beta 2 gene, making this the only known human V beta gene 3' of the C beta region.