BACKGROUND: Dendritic Cell (DC) vaccination is a very promising therapeutic strategy in cancer patients. The immunizing ability of DC is critically influenced by their migration activity to lymphatic tissues, where they have the task of priming naïve T-cells. In the present study in vivo DC migration was investigated within the context of a clinical trial of antitumor vaccination. In particular, we compared the migration activity of mature Dendritic Cells (mDC) with that of immature Dendritic Cells (iDC) and also assessed intradermal versus subcutaneous administration. METHODS: DC were labelled with 99mTc-HMPAO or 111In-Oxine, and the presence of labelled DC in regional lymph nodes was evaluated at pre-set times up to a maximum of 72 h after inoculation. Determinations were carried out in 8 patients (7 melanoma and 1 renal cell carcinoma). RESULTS: It was verified that intradermal administration resulted in about a threefold higher migration to lymph nodes than subcutaneous administration, while mDC showed, on average, a six-to eightfold higher migration than iDC. The first DC were detected in lymph nodes 20-60 min after inoculation and the maximum concentration was reached after 48-72 h. CONCLUSIONS: These data obtained in vivo provide preliminary basic information on DC with respect to their antitumor immunization activity. Further research is needed to optimize the therapeutic potential of vaccination with DC.