We have examined the cells involved in the development of contact sensitivity to FITC in CBA mice. After skin painting with antigen, the number of dendritic cells (DC) in the draining lymph nodes increased by 30 min, was maximal at 48 h, and returned to normal by 6 d. Derivation of some DC from Langerhans' cells of the skin was indicated from the presence of Birbeck granules observed in some DC isolated 24 h after skin painting. The DC acquired FITC and by 8 h there were two populations, one highly fluorescent and the other less fluorescent. The highly fluorescent cells were present between 8 h and 3 d after sensitization, and during this period the DC were potent at initiating primary proliferative responses of normal syngeneic T lymphocytes in vitro. Between days 3 and 5 the numbers of lymphocytes in the draining lymph node increased. During this period purified T lymphocytes did not express detectable levels of antigen, but enriched B cell populations expressed antigen transiently on day 1, 2, or 3 after exposure to antigen. The results showed that, during a 3-d period after exposure to antigen, DC expressed antigen and stimulated T cell proliferation. We speculate that low amounts of FITC binding selectively to veiled cells or lymph node DC in the first hours after exposure to antigen are not immunogenic but that Langerhans' cells acquire high levels of antigen, enter the nodes, and initiate immune responses.

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