Human T cells expressing CD161 and an invariant T-cell receptor (TCR) alpha-chain (Valpha24invt T cells) specifically recognize CD1d and appear to have immunoregulatory functions. However, the physiological target cells for this T-cell population, and whether alterations in CD1d expression contribute to the regulation of Valpha24invt T-cell responses, remain to be determined. A series of antibodies were generated to assess CD1d expression, structure and regulation on human lymphoid and myeloid cells. CD1d was expressed at high levels by human cortical thymocytes and immunoprecipitation analyses showed it to be a 48 000-MW glycosylated protein. However, after solubilization, the majority of the thymocyte CD1d protein, but not CD1d expressed by transfected cells, lost reactivity with monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) against native CD1d, indicating that it was alternatively processed. Moreover, thymocytes were not recognized by CD1d-reactive Valpha24invt T-cell clones. Medullary thymocytes and resting peripheral blood T cells were CD1d-, but low-level CD1d expression was induced on activated T cells. CD1d was expressed by B cells in peripheral blood and lymph node mantle zones, but germinal centres were CD1d-. Resting monocytes were CD1d+ but, in contrast to CD1a, b and c, their surface expression of CD1d was not up-regulated by granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and interleukin-4 (IL-4) activation. These results demonstrate constitutive CD1d expression by human professional antigen-presenting cells and that post-translational processing of CD1d may contribute to regulation of the activity of CD1d-specific T cells.