The gene Bcl11b, which encodes zinc finger proteins, and its paralog, Bcl11a, are associated with immune-system malignancies. We have generated Bcl11b-deficient mice that show a block at the CD4-CD8- double-negative stage of thymocyte development without any impairment in cells of B- or gammadelta T cell lineages. The Bcl11b-/- thymocytes showed unsuccessful recombination of V(beta) to D(beta) and lacked the pre-T cell receptor (TCR) complex on the cell surface, owing to the absence of Tcrb mRNA expression. In addition, we saw profound apoptosis in the thymus of neonatal Bcl11b-/- mice. These results suggest that Bcl11b is a key regulator of both differentiation and survival during thymocyte development.