Early growth response gene 1 (Egr1) codes for a transcriptional regulator that contains a zinc-finger DNA binding domain. Egr1 expression is induced by a variety of extracellular stimuli including TCR-ligand interactions. Its pattern of expression in the thymus and dependence on ERK activation have led to speculation that it has a role in T cell development, but the exact nature of this role has been undefined. To more clearly define the role of Egr1 in thymocyte development, we have analyzed thymocytes from Egr1-deficient mice. We find that thymuses from Egr1-deficient mice contain twice as many cells as age-matched controls, and the increase in thymocyte number is apparent at the early CD4/CD8 double negative stage of development. Subsequent maturation to the CD4/CD8 double positive stage and survival of the double positive cells both appear normal in Egr1-deficient animals. We also find that Egr1 promotes positive selection of both CD4 and CD8 single positive cells without playing a major role in negative selection. Egr1 influences positive selection by enhancing expression of the helix-loop-helix inhibitor Id3 and the anti-apoptosis molecule bcl-2. Thus, Egr1 translates developmental signals into appropriate changes in gene expression at multiple stages of thymocyte development.