The transcription factors GATA-3 and ThPOK are required for intrathymic differentiation of CD4(+) T cells, but their precise functions in this process remain unclear. Here we show that, contrary to previous findings, Gata3 disruption blocked differentiation into the CD4(+) T cell lineage before commitment to the CD4(+) lineage and in some contexts permitted the 'redirection' of major histocompatibility complex class II-restricted thymocytes into the CD8(+) lineage. GATA-3 promoted ThPOK expression and bound to a region of the locus encoding ThPOK established as being critical for ThPOK expression. Finally, ThPOK promoted differentiation into the CD4(+) lineage in a way dependent on GATA-3 but inhibited differentiation into the CD8(+) lineage independently of GATA-3. We propose that GATA-3 acts as a specification factor for the CD4(+) lineage 'upstream' of the ThPOK-controlled CD4(+) commitment checkpoint.