The susceptibility of monocyte-derived immature dendritic cells (DC) to infection by various strains of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) was analysed. Immature DC were generated by incubation of peripheral blood monocytes with interleukin-4 and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor for 7 days and were characterized by a CD1a+/CD40+/CD80+/CD86+/HLA-DR+/CD14- phenotype. Viral antigen expression and production of infectious progeny virus were analysed in infected immature DC cultures. Immature DC were 80-90 % susceptible to HCMV strains that had been propagated in endothelial cell culture, whereas the infection rate was negligible with fibroblast-adapted HCMV strains. Immature DC infection resulted in expression of viral immediate early, early and late genes. Productive infection was proven by the detection of infectious virus in single-step growth curves and in infectious centre assays. It is concluded that HCMV might interfere with the host immune reaction by permissive, lytic infection of immature DC.