The IL-15 receptor alpha subunit (IL-15Ralpha) mediates high-affinity binding of IL-15, a pleiotropic cytokine implicated in the development of innate immune cells. We have generated IL-15Ralpha null (IL-15Ralpha-/-) mice to understand the role of IL-15Ralpha in immune development and function. IL-15Ralpha-/- mice are markedly lymphopenic despite grossly normal T and B lymphocyte development. This lymphopenia is due to decreased proliferation and decreased homing of IL-15Ralpha-/- lymphocytes to peripheral lymph nodes. These mice are also deficient in natural killer cells, natural killer T cells, CD8+ T lymphocytes, and TCRgammadelta intraepithelial lymphocytes. In addition, memory phenotype CD8+ T cells are selectively reduced in number. Thus, IL-15Ralpha has pleiotropic roles in immune development and function, including the positive maintenance of lymphocyte homeostasis.