The non-obese diabetic (NOD) mouse is a good model of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Autoreactive T cells may play a fundamental role in disease initiation in this model, while disregulation of such cells may result from an abnormal thymic microenvironment. Diabetes is prevented in NOD mice by direct introduction of an E alpha d transgene (NOD-E) or a modified I-A beta chain of NOD origin (NOD-PRO or NOD-ASP). To investigate if disease pathology in NOD mice, protection from disease in transgenic NOD-E and NOD-PRO and partial protection from disease in NOD-ASP can be attributed to alterations in the thymic microenvironment, immunohistochemical and flow cytometric analysis of the thymi of these mouse strains was studied. Thymi from NOD and NOD-E mice showed a progressive increase in thymic B-cell percentage from 12 weeks of age. This was accompanied by a concomitant loss in thymic epithelial cells with the appearance of large epithelial-free areas mainly at the corticomedullary junction, which increased in size and number with age and contained the B-cell clusters. Such thymic B cells did not express CD5 and were absent in CBA, NOD-ASP and NOD-PRO mice as were the epithelial cell-free spaces, even at 5 months of age. Therefore the mechanisms of disease protection in the transgenic NOD-E and NOD-ASP/NOD-PRO mice may differ if these thymic abnormalities are related to disease.