Spleen dendritic cells (DC) and epidermal Langerhans cells (LC) belong to the same family of dendritic leukocytes and are considered to be prototypes of lymphoid DC and nonlymphoid DC, respectively. These cells are active APC in vitro and play a key role in the induction of primary T cell dependent immune responses in vivo. Two functional states of LC have been characterized in vitro, freshly isolated LC and cultured LC (cLC). That cLC closely resemble spleen DC in phenotype and function, has led to the hypothesis that LC undergo maturation toward DC while in culture, an event that has been correlated with the emigration of LC from skin into lymphoid organs. To date, however, DC have been studied only after overnight culture. To better understand the relationship between LC and DC, we examined DC shortly after their isolation from spleen, and after 24 h of culture. Freshly isolated DC (fDC) express high levels of MHC molecules and low levels of Fc gamma RII and C3biR; fDC also uniformly express the Ag recognized by the mAb 33D1, NLDC-145, and J11d. After culture, DC display a marked increase in the expression of MHC molecules, and they are induced to express the low affinity receptor for IL-2. By contrast, the expression of Fc gamma RII and F4/80 decreases with culture. With respect to function, fDC can efficiently present keyhole limpet hemocyanin to Ag-specific T cells, whereas cultured DC exhibit a marked reduction in this capacity. Finally, both fDC and cultured DC are capable of endocytosing surface Ia molecules, but only fDC are able to deliver them into acidic compartments. Our data indicate that fDC from spleen resemble freshly isolated LC from epidermis and that both cells undergo parallel changes during culture. These results suggest that LC and DC possess analogous attributes in vivo and respond similarly to external influences.