Dendritic cells (DCs) are strong activators of primary T cell responses. Their priming ability is acquired upon encounter with maturation stimuli. To identify the genes that are differentially expressed upon maturation induced by exposure to Gram-negative bacteria, a kinetic study of DC gene expression was done with microarrays representing 11,000 genes and ESTs (expressed sequence tags). Approximately 3000 differentially expressed transcripts were identified. We found that functional interleukin 2 (IL-2) mRNA, which gave rise to IL-2 production, was transiently up-regulated at early time-points after bacterial encounter. In contrast, macrophages did not produce IL-2 upon bacterial stimulation. Thus, IL-2 is an additional key cytokine that confers unique T cell stimulatory capacity to DCs.