T cell antigen receptors (TCR) expressed on developing T cells can react with self-peptides presented by proteins encoded by the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). Depending on the relative strength of these interactions, thymocytes are either negatively selected as potentially autoreactive and deleted or positively selected to become mature T cells. Developmental selection may also be regulated by signals in addition to those mediated through the TCR. In peripheral T cells, the CD28 receptor plays an important role in enhancing the survival and expansion of T cells activated by TCR engagement. Therefore, we have investigated the role of CD28 in regulating the selection of thymocytes using CD28-deficient mice. Surprisingly, we found a 50% increase in cell number in the thymi of CD28-deficient compared to wildtype mice, suggesting that CD28 might play a role in negative selection. Negative selection of double-positive thymocytes was found to be significantly reduced in response to either antigen or antibody crosslinking of the TCR complex in CD28-deficient animals. This was not due to a generalized defect in thymocyte survival as thymocytes from CD28-deficient and wildtype mice displayed similar sensitivity to apoptosis initiated by either gamma-irradiation or dexamethasone. In contrast to its role in T cell activation and survival in the peripheral immune system, the CD28 receptor appears to participate in the intracellular signaling events that result in negative selection in the thymus.