Exposure of human thymocytes to superantigens results in the deletion of thymocytes expressing specific TCR-V beta genes. The factors that contribute to this deletion may relate to the inherent nature of the T cell at a given stage of development. In this paper, we demonstrate that CD1+ human cortical thymocytes are capable of proliferating in response to a bacterial superantigen (staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB)) in the presence of autologous CD2-/low thymic APCs. Phenotypic analysis of the responding populations revealed that the majority of the CD1+ cells were CD4+CD8low or CD8+CD4low cells. The response is triggered by low concentrations of SEB, requires the participation of the TCR and IL-2R molecules, and is inhibited by cyclosporin A. Thymocytes that express specific V beta genes are expanded, which results in an engagement profile that parallels that found in PBLs. Additionally, four V beta-chains that have not been reported previously are shown to engage SEB. Once stimulated, the thymocytes failed to respond to additional SEB; however, they could be induced to proliferative with IL-2, which suggests that these expanded populations had become anergic. These data represent the first demonstration of a human cortical thymocyte subpopulation that responds to superantigen by proliferation and subsequent anergy.