Terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase (TdT) expression in bovine serum albumin (BSA) gradient-fractionated bone marrow cells was examined in NIH Swiss nu/nu and thymectomized C57BL/6 mice. In nude mice, TdT levels were approximately 10% of those of thymus-bearing littermates. In C57BL/6 mice, thymectomy caused a time-dependent loss of TdT activity in bone marrow cells. To determine whether or not not the apparent thymic requirement for TdT expression in bone marrow was mediated by thymic hormones, we examined the effects of thymosin fraction 5. Treatment of either NIH Swiss nu/nu or thymectomized C57BL/6 mice with thymosin fraction 5 restored the levels of TdT activity in BSA gradient-fractionated bone marrow cells to normal. Moreover, treatment of BSA gradient-fractionated bone marrow cells from NIH Swiss nu/nu or thymectomized C57BL/6 mice in tissue culture with thymosin fraction 5 induced TdT expression. In tissue culture, TdT induction was optimal with 25 ng/ml of thymosin fraction 5, it occurred within 6 h, and it was completely inhibited by actinomycin D. The effect was specific in that neither control nor spleen fraction 5-treated cells were induced to express TdT. These data demonstrate that TdT expression in bone marrow cells is under the direct control of thymic polypeptide hormones.