The cellular requirements of T cell tolerance induction in the thymus by clonal deletion was investigated by using an in vitro assay: thymocytes from mice expressing a transgenic TcR specific for lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) and H-2Db were co-cultured with various H-2b cell types as antigen-presenting cells in the presence of the antigenic LCMV peptide. The results revealed that all cell lines examined including embryonic and transformed fibroblasts, melanoma cells, cortical thymic epithelial cells, lymphomas and neuronal cells induced an antigen dose-dependent deletion of CD4+8+ thymocytes. Similarly, highly enriched accessory cell populations from thymus and spleen (macrophages, dendritic and cortical epithelial cells, i.e. thymic nurse cells) could induce antigen-specific depletion of immature CD4+8+ thymocytes. Depending on the cell type examined micromolar to picomolar concentration of LCMV peptide were required to induce deletion. The effectiveness of deletion by the different cell types did not correlate with their major histocompatibility class I expression level; it was, however, influenced by the presence of ICAM-1 adhesion molecules.