Primary T-cell responses in lymph nodes (LNs) require contact-dependent information exchange between T cells and dendritic cells (DCs). Because lymphocytes continually enter and leave normal LNs, the resident lymphocyte pool is composed of non-synchronized cells with different dwell times that display heterogeneous behaviour in mouse LNs in vitro. Here we employ two-photon microscopy in vivo to study antigen-presenting DCs and naive T cells whose dwell time in LNs was synchronized. During the first 8 h after entering from the blood, T cells underwent multiple short encounters with DCs, progressively decreased their motility, and upregulated activation markers. During the subsequent 12 h T cells formed long-lasting stable conjugates with DCs and began to secrete interleukin-2 and interferon-gamma. On the second day, coinciding with the onset of proliferation, T cells resumed their rapid migration and short DC contacts. Thus, T-cell priming by DCs occurs in three successive stages: transient serial encounters during the first activation phase are followed by a second phase of stable contacts culminating in cytokine production, which makes a transition into a third phase of high motility and rapid proliferation.