Interleukin (IL)-7 is a potent stimulus for immature T and B cells and, to a lesser extent, mature T cells. We have inactivated the IL-7 gene in the mouse germline by using gene-targeting techniques to further understand the biology of IL-7. Mutant mice were highly lymphopenic in the peripheral blood and lymphoid organs. Bone marrow B lymphopoiesis was blocked at the transition from pro-B to pre-B cells. Thymic cellularity was reduced 20-fold, but retained normal distribution of CD4 and CD8. Splenic T cellularity was reduced 10-fold. Splenic B cells, also reduced in number, showed an abnormal population of immature B cells in adult animals. The remaining splenic populations of lymphocytes showed normal responsiveness to mitogenic stimuli. These data show that proper T and B cell development is dependent on IL-7. The IL-7-deficient mice are the first example of single cytokine- deficient mice that exhibit severe lymphoid abnormalities.