Thymic positive and negative selection of developing T lymphocytes confronts us with a paradox: How can a T-cell antigen receptor (TCR)-major histocompatibility complex (MHC)/peptide interaction in the former process lead to transduction of signals allowing for cell survival and in the latter induce programmed cell death or a hyporesponsive state known as anergy? One of the hypotheses put forward states that the outcome of a TCR-MHC/peptide interaction depends on the cell type presenting the selecting ligand to the developing thymocyte. Here we describe the development and lack of self-tolerance of CD8(+) T lymphocytes in transgenic mice expressing MHC class I molecules in the thymus exclusively on cortical epithelial cells. Despite the absence of MHC class I expression on professional antigen-presenting cells, normal numbers of CD8(+) cells were observed in the periphery. Upon specific activation, transgenic CD8(+) T cells efficiently lysed syngeneic MHC class I(+) targets in vitro and in vivo, indicating that thymic cortical epithelium (in contrast to medullary epithelium and antigen-presenting cells of hematopoietic origin) is incapable of tolerance induction. Thus, compartmentalization of the antigen-presenting cells involved in thymic positive selection and tolerance induction can (at least in part) explain the positive/negative selection paradox.