A dendritic cell (DC) imbalance with a marked deficiency in CD4- 8+ DC occurs in non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice, a model of human autoimmune diabetes mellitus. Using a NOD congenic mouse strain, we find that this CD4- 8+ DC deficiency is associated with a gene segment on chromosome 4, which also encompasses non-MHC diabetes susceptibility loci. Treatment of NOD mice with fms-like tyrosine kinase 3 ligand (FL) enhances the level of CD4- 8+ DC, temporarily reversing the DC subtype imbalance. At the same time, fms-like tyrosine kinase 3 ligand treatment blocks early stages of the diabetogenic process and with appropriately timed administration can completely prevent diabetes development. This points to a possible clinical use of FL to prevent autoimmune disease.