CD3gamma and CD3delta are the most closely related CD3 components, both of which participate in the TCRalphabeta-CD3 complex expressed on mature T cells. Interestingly, however, CD3delta does not appear to participate functionally in the pre-T-cell receptor (TCR) complex that is expressed on immature T cells: disruption of CD3delta gene expression has no effect on the developmental steps controlled by the pre-TCR. Here we report that in contrast with CD3delta, CD3gamma is an essential component of the pre-TCR. We generated mice selectively lacking expression of CD3gamma, in which expression of CD3delta, CD3epsilon, CD3zeta, pTalpha and TCRbeta remained undisturbed. Thus, all components for composing a pre-TCR are available, with the exception of CD3gamma. Nevertheless, T-cell development is severely inhibited in CD3gamma-deficient mice. The number of cells in the thymus is reduced to <1% of that in normal mice, and the large majority of thymocytes lack CD4 and CD8 and are arrested at the CD44-CD25+ double negative (DN) stage of development. Peripheral lymphoid organs are also practically devoid of T cells, with absolute numbers of peripheral T cells reduced to only 2-5% of those in normal mice. Both TCRalphabeta and TCRgammadelta lineages fail to develop effectively in CD3gamma-deficient mice, although absence of CD3gamma has no effect on gene rearrangements of the TCRbeta, delta and gamma loci. Furthermore, absence of CD3gamma results in a severe reduction in the level of TCR and CD3epsilon expression at the cell surface of thymocytes and peripheral T cells. The defect in the DN to double positive transition in mice lacking CD3gamma can be overcome by anti-CD3epsilon-mediated cross-linking. CD3gamma is thus essential for pre-TCR function.