DEC-205 is a multilectin receptor for adsorptive endocytosis, expressed in mouse dendritic cells (DC) and some epithelia. DEC-205 is homologous to the macrophage mannose receptor (MMR). A cDNA for murine DEC-205 was used to identify 3 overlapping human DEC-205 clones from a lymphocyte library. The human homologue is a transmembrane protein of 1722 aminoacids with 10 externally disposed C-type lectin domains having 77% identity to the mouse counterpart. The NH(2) terminal cysteine-rich and fibronectin type II domains were expressed and used to immunize mice. A hybridoma, MG38, which specifically recognized the immunogen was obtained from a DEC-205 knockout mouse. The antibody precipitated a 205 kD protein from metabolically labeled, monocyte-derived DCs. MG38 labeled mature monocyte-derived DCs but showed weak or no labeling of other peripheral blood mononuclear cells. In tissue sections, MG38 identified DEC-205 on thymic cortical epithelium and DCs in the thymic medulla and tonsillar T cell areas. In contrast, an anti-MMR antibody stained DEC-205 negative, macrophages in the thymus cortex, the trabeculae of the thymus and tonsil, as well as efferent lymphatics in the tonsil. Therefore, the MG38 anti-DEC-205 antibody is useful for identifying DCs and reveals clear differences in sites where MMR and DEC-205 are expressed in lymphoid tissues.