Lymphotoxin (LT) alpha 1 beta 2, a tumour necrosis factor (TNF) cytokine critically involved in lymphoid organogenesis, is indispensable for the differentiation of V alpha 14i natural killer T (NKT) cells, a lymphocyte subset with important immunoregulatory properties. However, it is not required for the development of conventional T-cells. LT alpha 1 beta 2 signals through the LT beta receptor, which is expressed on non-lymphoid cells. Triggering of this receptor induces a unique signalling cascade leading to the activation of the transcription factor RelB through activation of NF-kappa B inducing kinase. This pathway is required for V alpha 14i NKT cell differentiation as appears from studies in gene-deficient animals. By reciprocal bone marrow chimeras, it was shown that RelB is required in a radiation-resistant host cell or stromal cell for normal V alpha 14i NKT cell development, presumably in the thymic stroma. These stromal cells are not required for the positive selection of these cells but rather play a prominent role in their terminal differentiation. Altogether, these observations underscore the unique developmental requirements of this particular lymphocyte subset.