Designing effective strategies to load human dendritic cells (DCs) with tumor antigens is a challenging approach for DC-based tumor vaccines. Here, a cytoplasmic expression system based on mRNA electroporation to efficiently introduce tumor antigens into DCs is described. Preliminary experiments in K562 cells using an enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) reporter gene revealed that mRNA electroporation as compared with plasmid DNA electroporation showed a markedly improved transfection efficiency (89% versus 40% EGFP(+) cells, respectively) and induced a strikingly lower cell toxicity (15% death rate with mRNA versus 51% with plasmid DNA). Next, mRNA electroporation was applied for nonviral transfection of different types of human DCs, including monocyte-derived DCs (Mo-DCs), CD34(+) progenitor-derived DCs (34-DCs) and Langerhans cells (34-LCs). High-level transgene expression by mRNA electroporation was obtained in more than 50% of all DC types. mRNA-electroporated DCs retained their phenotype and maturational potential. Importantly, DCs electroporated with mRNA-encoding Melan-A strongly activated a Melan-A-specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) clone in an HLA-restricted manner and were superior to mRNA-lipofected or -pulsed DCs. Optimal stimulation of the CTL occurred when Mo-DCs underwent maturation following mRNA transfection. Strikingly, a nonspecific stimulation of CTL was observed when DCs were transfected with plasmid DNA. The data clearly demonstrate that Mo-DCs electroporated with mRNA efficiently present functional antigenic peptides to cytotoxic T cells. Therefore, electroporation of mRNA-encoding tumor antigens is a powerful technique to charge human dendritic cells with tumor antigens and could serve applications in future DC-based tumor vaccines.