The origin and specificity of alphabeta TCR(+) T cells that express CD8alphaalpha have been controversial issues. Here we provide direct evidence that precursors of functional CD8alphaalpha T cells are positively selected in the thymus in the presence of agonist self-peptides. Like conventional positive selection, this agonist selection process requires functional TCR alpha-CPM, whereas it is independent of CD8beta expression. Furthermore, CD8alphaalpha expression on mature, agonist-selected T cells does not imply selection by MHC class I, and CD8alphaalpha(+) T cells can be either class I or class II restricted. Our data define a distinct agonist-dependent, positive selection process in the thymus, and they suggest a function for CD8alphaalpha distinct from the conventional TCR coreceptor function of CD8alphabeta or CD4.