Dendritic cells (DC) are potent accessory cells (AC) for the initiation of primary immune responses. Although murine lymphoid DC and Langerhans cells have been extensively characterized, DC from murine lung have been incompletely described. We isolated cells from enzyme-digested murine lungs and bronchoalveolar lavages that were potent stimulators of a primary mixed lymphocyte response (MLR). The AC had a low buoyant density, were loosely adherent and nonphagocytic. AC function was unaffected by depletion of cells expressing the splenic DC marker, 33D1. In addition, antibody and complement depletion of cells bearing the macrophage marker F4/80, or removal of phagocytic cells with silica also failed to decrease AC activity. In contrast, AC function was decreased by depletion of cells expressing the markers J11d and the low affinity interleukin 2 receptor (IL-2R), both present on thymic and skin DC. AC function was approximately equal in FcR+ and FcR- subpopulations, indicating there was heterogeneity within the AC population. Consistent with the functional data, a combined two-color immunofluorescence and latex bead uptake technique revealed that lung cells high in AC activity were enriched in brightly Ia+ dendritic-shaped cells that (a) were nonphagocytic, (b) lacked specific T and B lymphocyte markers and the macrophage marker F4/80, but (c) frequently expressed C3biR, low affinity IL-2R, FcRII, and the markers NLDC-145 and J11d. Taken together, the functional and phenotypic data suggest the lung cells that stimulate resting T cells in an MLR and that might be important in local pulmonary immune responses are DC that bear functional and phenotypic similarity to other tissues DC, such as Langerhans cells and thymic DC.

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