Lymphotoxin alpha (LT-alpha) may form secreted homotrimers binding to p55 and p75 tumor necrosis factor (TNF) receptors or cell surface-bound heterotrimers with LT-beta that interact with the LT-beta receptor. Genetic ablation of LT-alpha revealed that mutant mice have no detectable lymph nodes or Peyer's patches and that the organization of the splenic white pulp in T and B cell areas is disturbed. In this report we describe a novel function for the p55 TNF receptor during ontogeny and demonstrate that mice deficient for p55 completely lack organized Peyer's patches. In contrast, lymph nodes and spleen are present in p55-deficient mice and lymphocytes segregate normally into B and T cell areas in these organs. Lamina propria and intraepithelial lymphocytes of the small intestine were detected in normal number and distribution in p55 mutant mice. Lymphocytes and endothelial cells from p55-deficient mice express normal levels of adhesion molecules considered important for lymphocyte migration to mucosal organs; this indicates that the lack of Peyer's patches does not result from a defect in lymphocyte homing. In summary, the p55 receptor for TNF selectively mediates organogenesis of Peyer's patches throughout ontogeny, suggesting that the effects of LT-alpha on the development of lymphoid organs may be mediated by distinct receptors, each functioning in an organ-specific context.