We examined whether human blood dendritic cells (DCs) express a functional ligand for CD40 (CD40L). Human blood DCs expressed significant amounts of cell surface CD40L identical to that expressed on activated T cells, as detected by mAb to CD40L or a chimeric CD40.Ig fusion protein (CD40.Ig). Stimulation through CD40 up-regulated protein and mRNA CD40L expression in DCs, B cells, and B cell lines. CD40-mediated CD40L expression was inhibited by a protein tyrosine kinase inhibitor, herbimycin, in a dose-dependent manner, suggesting that the induction of CD40L expression via CD40 requires protein tyrosine kinase activity. CD40L surface expression correlated with constitutive or inducible levels of CD40L-specific mRNA, as determined by reverse transcribed PCR analysis (RT-PCR) using CD40L-homologous primers. Furthermore, CD40L on DCs was functional, since CD40L+ DCs, unlike CD40L- DCs, induced B cell IgG and IgA production, and this induction could be inhibited by blocking CD40L-CD40 interactions with mAb to CD40L. Thus, CD40L on DCs and CD40L induced by crosslinking CD40 may regulate B cell activation and maturation. The importance of DC CD40L expression on B cell function is discussed.