We have examined in a murine model, the potential of the oral mucosa (OM) to serve as inductive and/or expression site(s) of delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) reactions. The expression of DTH reactions in the murine buccal mucosa was studied after topical application of oxazolone or picryl chloride onto the OM of animals previously sensitized with either hapten. Irrespective of the site of priming (skin or buccal mucosa), inflammatory cells appeared in the OM following buccal elicitation with the pertinent hapten. The density of infiltrating cells peaked at 24 h after hapten elicitation. Such inflammatory reactions, which comprised mainly mononuclear cells at 24 h, were preceded by an early inflammatory reaction that developed only in animals previously sensitized at skin sites. This early reaction, comprising mainly PMN neutrophils, peaked at 6-8 h, declined by 8-16 h, and was not observed in mice previously sensitized in the buccal mucosa. The 24 h reactions failed to develop in nude mice similarly treated, in intact unsensitized mice, as well as in animals sensitized with an irrelevant hapten. These reactions could be adoptively transferred to naive animals by LN cells but not by serum from sensitized syngeneic donors. Furthermore, LN cell suspensions depleted of T cells failed to transfer sensitization for subsequent OM DTH. Topical application of contact sensitizing haptens onto OM induced priming for subsequent DTH reactions elicited with recall antigen applied at a distant skin site or at a local buccal site. These results demonstrate that the OM has the capacity to serve both as an inductive and as an expression site for T cell-mediated inflammatory reactions, be these expressed or induced at local mucosal sites or at remote systemic (skin) sites. This animal model should be valuable for studying the regulation of T cell-mediated inflammatory responses at mucosal surfaces.