A small subset of functionally active CD4+ CD8- thymocytes express the NK1.1 marker, as do most CD4-CD8- NK1.1+ thymocytes. Previous studies have failed to implicate a role for major histocompatibility complex (MHC) or related molecules in the selection of the CD4+ CD8- NK1.1+ subset. We report here that the development of most of these cells is sharply reduced in class I-deficient mice, but not in class II-deficient mice. Hence, some CD4+ T cells are class I dependent and not class II dependent. Unlike conventional T cells, however, the development of NK1.1+ thymocytes in both the CD4+ CD8- and CD4- CD8- subsets is dependent on class I MHC expression by hematopoietic cells and not thymic epithelial cells. We propose that these populations are selected by nonpolymorphic class Ib or CD1 molecules.

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