Implantation of pieces of human fetal liver and thymus into SCID mice results in the development of a human thymus-like organ, in which sustained lymphopoiesis is reproducibly observed. In this model, T cell development can be experimentally manipulated. To study the influence of thymic selection on the development of the human T cell repertoire, the T cell receptor (TCR) V beta gene repertoire of double-positive (CD4+CD8+) and single-positive (CD4+CD8- and CD4-CD8+) T cells was analyzed in the SCID-hu thymus using a multiprobe ribonuclease protection assay. TCR diversity in double-positive SCID-hu thymocytes was found to be comparable with that present in the thymus of the fetal liver donor, did not change with time, and was independent of the origin of the thymus donor. Thymic selection in SCID-hu thymus induces changes in V beta usage by the single-positive CD4+ or CD8+ T cells comparable with those previously reported for single-positive cells present in a normal human thymus. Finally, significant differences were observed in the V beta usage by CD4 or CD8 single-positive T cells that matured from genetically identical stem cells in different thymic environments. Collectively, these data suggest: first, that the generation of TCR diversity at the double-positive stage is determined by the genotype of the stem cells; and second, that polymorphic determinants expressed by thymic epithelium measurably influence the V beta repertoire of mature single-positive T cells.