T cells recognize foreign antigens together with those MHC glycoproteins they have encountered during their development in the thymus. How the repertoire of antigen-specific TCRs is selected has not yet been fully defined. We have investigated the T cell repertoire specificities of CD4-CD8+ cytotoxic T cells developing under conditions where one of the class I MHC-encoded molecules is blocked, while other class I-MHC glycoproteins are still expressed. We show that antigen-specific T cells restricted to the blocked class I fail to develop, while generation of other class I-specific T cell proceeds undisturbed. This highly selective perturbation of the T cell receptor repertoire demonstrates that development of CD4-CD8+ T cells with a certain TCR specificity requires expression of particular alleles of class I MHC. Thus, TCR-MHC interactions provide signals essential to the differentiation of precursor T cells.

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