The skin of mice contains dendritic epidermal cells carrying the Thy-1 antigen (Thy-1+ dEC) which express antigen receptors composed of the T-cell antigen receptor (TCR) gamma- and delta-chains. Although the role of the thymus in the generation of most T cells is well established, the involvement of the thymus in the generation of Thy-1+ dEC is not clear. Because bone marrow cells can give rise in Thy-1+ dEC in chimaeric mice and Thy-1+ dEC are detected in the skin of athymic nude nice, it has been proposed that Thy-1+ dEC arise continuously from bone marrow precursors by a thymus-independent mechanism. But it has recently been determined that Thy-1+ dEC in nude mice do not express TCR at the cell surface, and that the gamma- and delta-chain genes are in germ-line configuration, leaving the role of the thymus in the generation of Thy-1+ dEC uncertain. Most Thy-1+ dEC in all normal mouse strains examined express TCR containing the V gamma 3 gene product. This V gene segment is expressed on the first wave of TCR-expressing cells to emerge during fetal development, and in adult mice is detectable only on cells in the epidermis. In addition to use of this 'fetal' V gamma segment, other features of the Thy-1+ dEC TCR genes, including absence or minimal presence of nongerm-line-encoded nucleotides at the junctions and use of a single D element in the rearranged delta-chain gene are typical of rearrangements found in fetal, and not adult, thymus. Here we demonstrate that precursors that are present only in the fetal thymus give rise to Thy-1+ dEC in the skin of adult mice.