CD11c(+) (F4/80(-) CD68(-)) dendritic cells (DC) in the colonic lamina propria (cLP) of normal and immunodeficient (RAG1(-/-)) C57BL/6 (B6) mice show high surface expression of MHC class I/II molecules and CD1d, and low surface expression of CD40, CD80, CD86 costimulator molecules. CD4(+) alpha beta T cells from normal or MHC class II-deficient B6 mice transferred into congenic RAG1(-/-) hosts induce a progressive, lethal colitis. Concomitant with colitis development, DC in the inflamed cLP increase in number and up-regulate surface expression of CD1d, MHC class II molecules and CD40, CD80, CD86 costimulator molecules. cLP DC from non-transplanted (healthy) and transplanted (diseased) mice produce similar amounts of IL-12 p70 and IL-10 in response to CD40 signaling, but the inducible IL-12 p40 release is 5-15-fold higher in mice with colitis than in non-transplanted mice. Binding of IL-12 p40 to p19 generates IL-23. Freshly isolated cLP lymphocytes (cLPL) from transplanted, diseased mice express 3-10-fold more p19 transcripts than cLPL from non-transplanted, healthy mice. p19 expression by cLPL is further up-regulated in response to CD40 ligation. Freshly isolated cLP DC from transplanted mice with colitis (but not from non-transplanted controls) stimulate IFN-gamma (but not IL-4 or IL-13) release by co-cultured NKT cells. Incolitis, DC accumulate in the cLP, show an activated surface phenotype, up-regulate IL-12 p40 and p19 expression, and 'spontaneously' stimulate NKT-like cells. cLP DC may be interesting targets for novel therapeutic approaches to modulate mucosal T cell responses in situ.