Thymic positive and negative selections govern the development of a self-MHC-reactive, yet self-tolerant, T cell repertoire. Whether these processes occur independently or sequentially remains controversial. To investigate these issues, we have employed tetrameric peptide-MHC complexes to fluorescently label and monitor polyclonal populations of thymocytes that are specific for moth cytochrome c (MCC)/I-Ek. In TCR beta mice tetramer-positive thymocytes are detectable even in the most immature TCR-expressing cells. In the presence of MCC peptide, thymocytes that bind strongly to MCC/I-Ek tetramers are deleted earlier in development and more extensively than cells that bind weakly. This negative selection of the MCC/I-Ek-specific cells occurs continuously throughout development and before any evidence of positive selection. Thus, positive and negative selections are independent processes that need not occur sequentially.