In-frame rearrangement of the TCR-beta locus and expression of the pre-TCR are compulsory for the production of CD4+8+ thymocytes from CD4-8- precursors. Signals delivered via the pre-TCR are thought to induce the differentiation process as well as the extensive proliferation that accompanies this transition. However, it is equally possible that pre-TCR expression is required for the success of this transition, but does not play a direct role in the inductive process. In the present manuscript we examine this possibility using a variety of normal and genetically modified mouse models. Our evidence shows that differentiation and mitogenesis can both occur independently of pre-TCR expression. However, these processes are absolutely dependent on the presence of normal thymic architecture and cellular composition. These findings are consistent with a checkpoint role for the pre-TCR in regulating the divergence of survival and cell death fates at the CD4-8- to CD4+8+ transition. Further, our data suggest that precursor thymocyte differentiation is induced by other, probably ubiquitous, mechanisms that require the presence of normal thymic cellularity, composition, and architecture.