Two class I MHC mutant mouse strains, bm14 and bm13, differ from the strain of origin B6 in one and three amino acids in the alpha 1 and alpha 2 domains of the H-2Db molecule, respectively. These alterations result in specific failure to generate a CTL (Tc) response to the male-specific Ag H-Y. Immunization and/or restimulation in vitro with syngeneic male dendritic cells (DC), expressing very high levels of class I MHC molecules, restored the H-Y-specific Tc response of bm14 but not of bm13 mice. Serologically Db determinants were lost in normal spleen cells of both mutants, because FACS analysis showed a decreased binding of Db domain-specific mAb. Although bm13 DC show a higher fluorescence than bm13 normal spleen cells it is still strongly reduced (30 to 50%) in comparison with B6 DC. Surprisingly, bm14 DC show an equally very strong binding compared with B6 DC with these mAb. The quantitative expression of class I molecules on APC thus appears to be a major determinant in the regulation of Tc responses. In addition, immunization with DC markedly influenced the target cell specificity of the ensuing Tc response. The combined data clearly demonstrate that besides the highly efficient class II-restricted presentation of Ag to Th, shown previously, DC are also superior in the presentation of Ag in the context of class I molecules to Tc. bm14 DC are capable of directly activating H-Y-specific Lyt-2+ Tc memory cells without the need for L3T4+ Th. These biologic effects of DC can at least in part be explained by their very high class I MHC expression. Moreover, these results reiterate that class I MHC Db mutants and different APC can be used to study the contribution of specific class I domains to Tc recognition and restriction specificity.