Epithelial cells in the thymus produce IL-7, an essential cytokine that promotes the survival, differentiation, and proliferation of thymocytes. We identified IL-7-expressing thymic epithelial cells (TECs) throughout ontogeny and in the adult mouse thymus by in situ hybridization analysis. IL-7 expression is initiated in the thymic fated domain of the early primordium by embryonic day 11.5 and is expressed in a Foxn1-independent pathway. Marked changes occur in the localization and regulation of IL-7-expressing TECs during development. IL-7-expressing TECs are present throughout the early thymic rudiment. In contrast, a major population of IL-7-expressing TECs is localized to the medulla in the adult thymus. Using mouse strains in which thymocyte development is arrested at various stages, we show that fetal and postnatal thymi differ in the frequency and localization of IL-7-espressing TECs. Whereas IL-7 expression is initiated independently of hemopoietic-derived signals during thymic organogenesis, thymocyte-derived signals play an essential role in regulating IL-7 expression in the adult TEC compartment. Moreover, different thymocyte subsets regulate the expression of IL-7 and keratin 5 in adult cortical epithelium, suggesting that despite phenotypic similarities, the cortical TEC compartments of wild-type and RAG-1-/- mice are developmentally and functionally distinct.