The role of the thymus in T cell commitment of hemopoietic precursor is yet controversial. We previously identified a major T cell progenitor activity in precursor cells isolated from bone marrow-derived spleen colonies. In this study, we characterize the properties of these pre-T cells. We demonstrate that they have unique phenotype and can be generated in a total absence of any thymic influence. Indeed, even when studied at the single-cell level, extrathymic T cell-committed precursors express T cell-specific genes. Moreover, these cells are not committed to a particular T cell differentiation pathway because they can generate both extrathymic CD8alphaalpha+ intraepithelial lymphocytes and thymus-derived conventional thymocytes. We also compared these pre-T cells with fully T cell-committed thymic progenitors. When tested in vitro or by direct intrathymic transfer, these cells have a low clonogenic activity. However, after i.v. transfer, thymus repopulation is efficient and these precursors generate very high numbers of peripheral T cells. These results suggest the existence of extra steps of pre-T cell maturation that improve thymus reconstitution capacity and that can be delivered even after full T cell commitment. Consequently, our studies identify a source of extrathymic progenitors that will be helpful in defining the role of the thymus in the earliest steps of T cell differentiation.