Athymic H-2b nude mice received grafts from C57BL/6 (Sendai virus and H-Y antigen cytotoxic T lymphocyte [CTL] responder type), bm1 (H-2Kb mutant, Sendai CTL nonresponder type), or bm12 (H-21-A mutant, H-Y CTL nonresponder type) neonates. In observations of the CTL response to H-Y, both recipients and thymus donors were female. All types of thymus engraftment resulted in mature H-2b splenic T lymphocyte surface phenotype in nude hosts. T cell immunocompetence (as measured by major histocompatibility complex [MHC] CTL responses to allogeneic cells) was restored, and induced nonresponsiveness to the MHC determinants of the engrafted thymus in the nude host. The CTL reaction to Sendai virus in both responder type C57BL/6 and nonresponder type bm1 neonatal thymuses allowed maturation of Sendai-specific, H-2Kb-restricted CTL. For the CTL reaction to H-Y, only responder type C57BL/6 thymuses restored the CTL response, whereas this was not achieved with thymuses from nonresponder type bm12 neonatal females. Results of double thymus (B6 and bm12) engraftment excluded the possibility that this latter effect was caused by suppression. In addition, athymic bm1 mice were engrafted with thymuses from either B6 (Sendai CTL responder type) or syngeneic bm1 neonates (Sendai CTL nonresponder type). Again, both types of neonate thymuses restored T cell competence as measured by MHC/CTL responses to allogeneic cells. However, neither responder B6 nor nonresponder bm1 neonate thymus grafts allowed maturation of Sendai-specific CTL. In conclusion, the thymus dictates MHC specificity and immune response gene phenotype of T cells restricted to class II MHC molecules but not of T cells restricted to class I MHC molecules.