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Whereas most CD8+ T cells in lymph nodes and spleen express the CD8alpha beta heterodimer and depend absolutely on thymic competence for their development, a substantial population of T cells expressing CD8alpha alpha matures extrathymically. Although the existence of these CD8 sublineages is well established, relatively little is known about differences that might exist among CD8 cells in their requirement for particular transcriptional pathways during the development and maintenance of normal populations. Transgenic mice whose T lineage expresses an IkappaBalpha mutant exhibited decreased NF-kappaB signaling and a diminution in mature CD8 T cells. We now have determined that although TCR-dependent CD69 induction by CD8alpha alpha and CD8alpha beta T cells was unaffected by inhibition of NF-kappaB, TCRalpha beta CD8alpha beta T cells were preferentially reduced compared to their TCRalpha beta CD8alpha alpha or TCRgamma delta counterparts. This finding was most prominent in spleen, but was also apparent in Peyer's patches of transgenic mice. In addition, diminished antiviral cytotoxic responses of CD8alpha beta intraepithelial lymphocytes were observed after enteric reovirus infection. Taken together, these results indicate that NF-kappaB signaling is more important for the thymus-dependent TCRalpha beta CD8alpha beta population than for other CD8 lineages, and thus regulates the number, function, and normal balance of CD8 subsets in the periphery.