The X-linked mutation, scurfy (sf), causes a fatal lymphoreticular disease characterized by runting, lymphadenopathy, splenomegaly, hypergammaglobulinemia, exfoliative dermatitis, Coombs'-positive anemia, and death by 24 days of age. T lymphocytes are required to mediate this syndrome as shown by a total absence of disease in mice bred to be scurfy and nude (sf/Y; nu/nu). The scurfy phenotype is not transmitted by sf/Y bone marrow transplants, though cells of scurfy origin do reconstitute all lymphoid organs in the recipient mouse. These data suggest that scurfy disease results from an abnormal T cell development process and not from an intrinsic stem cell defect. We therefore tested the ability of transplanted scurfy thymuses to transmit scurfy disease to congenic euthymic mice, to athymic (nude) mice, and to severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) mice. Euthymic recipients of sf/Y thymic grafts remained clinically normal as did all SCID and nude recipients of normal thymus transplants. Morphological lesions similar to those found in scurfy mice occurred in all H-2-compatible nude and SCID recipients of sf/Y thymic grafts. Intraperitoneal injections of scurfy thymocytes, splenocytes, and lymph node cells also transmitted the scurfy phenotype to H-2-compatible nude mice and SCID mice. Our findings indicate that scurfy disease can be transmitted to T cell-deficient mice by engraftment of scurfy T cells, but that pathogenic scurfy T cell activities can be inhibited (or prevented) in immunocompetent recipient mice.