Recent studies have shown that TCR beta chain expression can effect the differentiation of CD4-CD8- double-negative (DN) thymocytes to CD4+CD8+ double-positive (DP) thymocytes. The TCR beta chain is expressed on the surface of DP thymocytes in association with CD3 gamma, delta and epsilon chains, suggesting a potential role for CD3 components in this signaling process. We now report detection of a very low level of surface expression of CD3 epsilon on adult DN RAG-2-/- thymocytes. This surface CD3 epsilon was associated with CD3 gamma and delta chains, as detected by anti-CD3 epsilon immunoprecipitation analyses. Significantly, injection of anti-CD3 epsilon mAb into RAG-2-/- mice led to the accumulation of an IL-2R alpha- CD2+ DP cell population and a nearly 100-fold increase in thymic cellularity to essentially normal levels. Together, these data strongly indicate that TCR beta chain-mediated developmental signals are transduced by CD3 components and provide potential insights into mechanisms by which TCR beta chain expression may effect this process.