The Wilms tumor suppressor gene WT1 (wt1 in mouse) is unique among tumor suppressors because, in addition to its involvement in cancer   and various other diseases    , it has an essential role in the development of certain organs. This is revealed by the phenotype of mice with inactivated wt1 alleles . These animals exhibit a complete failure of kidney and gonad development as well as abnormalities of the heart and mesothelial structures. On a C57BL/6 genetic background, wt1(-/-) animals die between day 13.5 (E13.5) and 15.5 (E15.5) of embryonic development . We report here that crossing of the wt1 mutation onto different mouse backgrounds delayed embryonic lethality until birth. In wt1(-/-) mice on these different genetic backgrounds, we observed a dramatic failure of spleen development, in addition to the well characterized phenotypic abnormalities. The spleen anlage formed at around E12 to E13 and involuted by the E15 stage, before the invasion of hematopoietic cells. The absence of proper spleen development in these wt1(-/-) embryos correlated with enhanced apoptosis in the primordial spleen cells. The expression of hox11, a gene that also controls development of the spleen  , was not altered by the inactivation of wt1. In situ hybridization revealed that the two genes are regulated independently. These findings demonstrate that the penetrance of the wt1(-/-) phenotype depends on the existence of one or more modifier gene(s) and that wt1 plays a pivotal role in the development of the spleen, thereby extending its role in organogenesis.