Little is known about the signals that promote early B lineage differentiation from common lymphoid progenitors (CLPs). Using a stromal-free culture system, we show that interleukin (IL)-7 is sufficient to promote the in vitro differentiation of CLPs into B220+ CD19+ B lineage progenitors. Consistent with current models of early B cell development, surface expression of B220 was initiated before CD19 and was accompanied by the loss of T lineage potential. To address whether IL-7 receptor (R) activity is essential for early B lineage development in vivo, we examined the frequencies of CLPs and downstream pre–pro- and pro-B cells in adult mice lacking either the α chain or the common gamma chain (γc) of the IL-7R. The data indicate that although γc−/− mice have normal frequencies of CLPs, both γc−/− and IL-7Rα−/− mice lack detectable numbers of all downstream early B lineage precursors, including pre–pro-B cells. These findings challenge previous notions regarding the point in B cell development affected by the loss of IL-7R signaling and suggest that IL-7 plays a key and requisite role during the earliest phases of B cell development.