Immature thymocytes, which coexpress CD4 and CD8, give rise to mature CD4+CD8- and CD4-CD8+ T cells. Only those T cells that recognize self-MHC are selected to mature, a process known as positive selection. The specificity of the T cell antigen receptor (TCR) for class I or class II MHC influences the commitment to a CD4 or CD8 lineage. This may occur by a directed mechanism or by stochastic commitment followed by a selection step that allows only CD8+, class I-specific and CD4+, class II-specific cells to survive. We have generated a mouse line expressing a CD8 transgene under the control of the T cell-specific CD2 regulatory sequences. Although constitutive CD8 expression does not affect thymic selection of CD4+ cells, selection of a class I-specific TCR in the CD8 subset is substantially improved. This outcome is consistent with a model for positive selection in which selection occurs at a developmental stage in which both CD4 and CD8 are expressed, and positive selection by class I MHC generates an instructive signal that directs differentiation to a CD8 lineage.