Interleukin 7 (IL-7) stimulates the proliferation of B cell progenitors, thymocytes, and mature T cells through an interaction with a high affinity receptor (IL-7R) belonging to the hematopoietin receptor superfamily. We have further addressed the role of IL-7 and its receptor during B and T cell development by generating mice genetically deficient in IL-7R. Mutant mice display a profound reduction in thymic and peripheral lymphoid cellularity. Analyses of lymphoid progenitor populations in IL-7R-deficient mice define precisely those developmental stages affected by the mutation and reveal a critical role for IL-7R during early lymphoid development. Significantly, these studies indicate that the phase of thymocyte expansion occurring before the onset of T cell receptor gene rearrangement is critically dependent upon, and mediated by the high affinity receptor for IL-7.