The development of functionally specialized subtypes of dendritic cells (DCs) can be modeled through the culture of bone marrow with the ligand for the cytokine receptor Flt3. Such cultures produce DCs resembling spleen plasmacytoid DCs (pDCs), CD8(+) conventional DCs (cDCs) and CD8(-) cDCs. Here we isolated two sequential DC-committed precursor cells from such cultures: dividing 'pro-DCs', which gave rise to transitional 'pre-DCs' en route to differentiating into the three distinct DC subtypes (pDCs, CD8(+) cDCs and CD8(-) cDCs). We also isolated an in vivo equivalent of the DC-committed pro-DC precursor cell, which also gave rise to the three DC subtypes. Clonal analysis of the progeny of individual pro-DC precursors demonstrated that some pro-DC precursors gave rise to all three DC subtypes, some produced cDCs but not pDCs, and some were fully committed to a single DC subtype. Thus, commitment to particular DC subtypes begins mainly at this pro-DC stage.