To study whether the thymic major histocompatibility complex (MHC) imposes a constraint on the receptor repertoire of maturating cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) precursors, the restriction phenotypes of virus-specific CTL of MHC-compatible and of MHC-incompatible thymus- and bone marrow-grafted (A X B)F1 chimeric mice were compared. Dependent on the mode of in vitro sensitization, thymocytes or splenocytes of both types of chimeric mice generated Sendai virus-specific, self-MHC-or allo-MHC-restricted CTL. By applying the limiting-dilution technique, the CTL-precursor (CTL-P) frequencies of self-MHC-restricted and allo-MHC-restricted virus-specific T cells as well as of alloreactive T cells were determined. The data obtained revealed that independent of MHC differences between thymus and bone marrow, the frequencies of self-MHC-restricted and allo-MHC-restricted CTL-P were comparable, and in the same older of magnitude as those previously determined in conventionally reared mice. Self-MHC-restricted, virus-specific CTL-P were in a three- to fivefold excess over allo-MHC-restricted CTL-P. A segregation analysis revealed that clonally distinct CTL-P give rise to either self-restricted or allo-MHC-restricted, virus-specific CTL. Both sets were found not only in the spleen, but also in the thymus of chimeric mice, formally demonstrating the intrathymic differentiation pathway of self-MHC as well of allo-MHC-restricted CTL-P. These data reveal no major constraint of the thymic MHC on the capacity of T cells to recognize viral antigens either in the context of self-MHC or of allogeneic MHC products.