T lymphocytes with the surface phenotype CD4+8- and CD4-8+ are considered to be representative of functionally mature cells. We show here that adult murine thymus contains a subpopulation of CD4-8+ cells that differ from CD4-8+ cells found in the periphery in that they do not express the T cell receptor-associated CD3 molecular complex. Such CD3-4-8+ thymocytes are cortisone sensitive and rapidly cycling in situ. Furthermore, in contrast to mature T cells, most CD3-4-8+ thymocytes express low levels of CD5 and high levels of the B2A2 antigen. CD3-4-8+ thymocytes fail to respond to a variety of mitogenic stimuli in vitro but do give rise upon short-term culture to CD4+8+ cells. It is suggested that CD3-4-8+ thymocytes represent a transitional stage of thymus differentiation between the CD4-8- and CD4+8+ compartments.