Mice deficient in the gene encoding the peptide transporter associated with antigen processing (TAP1) have drastically reduced levels of surface expression of MHC class I molecules and few CD8+ T cells. Addition of class I binding peptides to cultured fetal thymi from TAP1 mutant mice invariably allowed the rescue of class I expression, while only some of these peptides promoted the positive selection of CD8+ T cells, which were polyclonal and specific for the peptide-MHC complex. A nonselecting peptide was converted to a mixture of selecting peptides when the residues involved in the interaction with TCRs were altered. A mixture of self-peptides derived from C57BL/6 thymi induced positive selection of CD8+ T cells at concentrations that gave relatively low class I surface expression. The implication of these observations is that self-peptides determine, in part, the repertoire of specificities exhibited by CD8+ T cells.