Thymocyte selection and differentiation requires extracellular signal-regulated kinase (Erk) signaling, but transcription factor substrates of Erk in thymocytes are unknown. We have characterized the function of SAP-1 (Elk4), an Erk-regulated transcription factor, in thymocyte development. Early thymocyte development was normal, but single-positive thymocyte and peripheral T cell numbers were reduced, reflecting a T cell-autonomous defect. T cell receptor-induced activation of SAP-1 target genes such as Egr1 was substantially impaired in double-positive thymocytes, although Erk activation was normal. Analysis of T cell receptor transgenes showed that positive selection was reduced by 80-90% in SAP-1-deficient mice; heterozygous mice showed a moderate defect. Negative selection was unimpaired. SAP-1 thus directly links Erk signaling to the transcriptional events required for thymocyte positive selection.