Low molecular weight fragmentation products of the polysaccharide of Hyaluronic acid (sHA) produced during inflammation have been shown to be potent activators of immunocompetent cells such as dendritic cells (DCs) and macrophages. Here we report that sHA induces maturation of DCs via the Toll-like receptor (TLR)-4, a receptor complex associated with innate immunity and host defense against bacterial infection. Bone marrow-derived DCs from C3H/HeJ and C57BL/10ScCr mice carrying mutant TLR-4 alleles were nonresponsive to sHA-induced phenotypic and functional maturation. Conversely, DCs from TLR-2-deficient mice were still susceptible to sHA. In accordance, addition of an anti-TLR-4 mAb to human monocyte-derived DCs blocked sHA-induced tumor necrosis factor alpha production. Western blot analysis revealed that sHA treatment resulted in distinct phosphorylation of p38/p42/44 MAP-kinases and nuclear translocation of nuclear factor (NF)-kappa B, all components of the TLR-4 signaling pathway. Blockade of this pathway by specific inhibitors completely abrogated the sHA-induced DC maturation. Finally, intravenous injection of sHA-induced DC emigration from the skin and their phenotypic and functional maturation in the spleen, again depending on the expression of TLR-4. In conclusion, this is the first report that polysaccharide degradation products of the extracellular matrix produced during inflammation might serve as an endogenous ligand for the TLR-4 complex on DCs.