An in vitro acute-depletion protocol was used to detect trinitrophenyl (TNP)-specific, allo-major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-restricted cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) within thymocytes of inbred mice. After removal of alloreactivity, the negatively selected cells could be sensitized to become TNP-specific, allo-MHC-restricted cytotoxic T cells. A precursors frequency analysis revealed a three- to ninefold lower frequency of allo-MHC-restricted CTL precursors (CTL-P) as compared to self-MHC-restricted CTL-P. The specificity analysis of clonally distributed allo-MHC-restricted CTL-P excluded cross-reactivity as an explanation of allo-MHC restriction. These results provide direct evidence that thymic T cells are composed of a mixture of self-MHC- and allo-MHC-restricted immunocompetent T cells and that antigen-driven selection of precommitted T cells dictates the H-2-restriction phenotype, i.e., H-2 restriction is a consequence of priming.