The early phases of T-cell development require both cell-cell interactions and soluble factors provided by stromal cells within the thymic microenvironment. Still, the precise nature of the signals delivered in vivo by cytokines (resulting in survival, proliferation or differentiation) remains unclear. Recent studies using mice deficient in cytokines or in their receptors have helped to identify essential signaling pathways required for the development of intrathymic precursors to mature alpha beta and gamma delta T cells. In addition, cytokine requirements for the development of natural killer cells were revealed in such mutants. The results obtained demonstrate that the development of all classes of lymphocytes (natural killer, gamma delta T cells and alpha beta T cells) is cytokine dependent, but the specific requirements differ for each lineage.