Using hen egg-white lysozyme, the effect of blood proteins on CD4 thymic cells was examined. A small fraction of i.v. injected hen egg-white lysozyme rapidly entered the thymus into the medulla. There it was captured and presented by dendritic cells (DCs) to thymocytes from two TCR transgenic mice, one directed to a dominant peptide and a second to a poorly displayed peptide, both presented by MHC class II molecules I-Ak. Presentation by DC led to negative selection and induction of regulatory T cells, independent of epithelial cells. Presentation took place at very low levels, less than 100 peptide-MHC complexes per DC. Such low levels could induce negative selection, but even lower levels could induce regulatory T cells. The anatomy of the thymus-blood barrier, the highly efficient presentation by DC, together with the high sensitivity of thymic T cells to peptide-MHC complexes, results in blood protein Ags having a profound effect on thymic T cells.