To seek direct evidence for the notion that stem cells in the thymus need to be constantly replenished from the bone marrow (BM), fetal (day 15) thymuses from normal BALB/c mice were grafted into T and B cell-deficient C.B-17 SCID mice (both H-2d, I-E+). The thymus grafts in these mice showed normal thymopoiesis for the first 3 wk postgrafting but then developed sudden atrophy with near complete loss of CD4+8+ cells by 4-5 wk. Such atrophy was not seen when the thymus-grafted mice were cotransplanted with normal BM cells. The lymph nodes of SCID mice receiving thymus grafts alone contained mature T cells but virtually no B cells. This lack of B cells was associated with aberrant I-E-restricted V beta deletion: the depletion of V beta 3+ and V beta 5+ T cells was near complete, whereas V beta 11+ cells showed only marginal depletion.