Although plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) respond to virus replication in a nonspecific way by producing large amounts of type I interferon, a rapid, direct function for pDCs in activating antiviral lymphocytes is less apparent. Here we show that pDCs were able to rapidly initiate antigen-specific antiviral CD8+ T cell responses. After being exposed to virus, pDCs efficiently and rapidly internalized exogenous viral antigens and then presented those antigens on major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I to CD8+ T cells. Processing of exogenous antigen occurred in endocytic organelles and did not require transit of antigen to the cytosol. Intracellular stores of MHC class I partially localized together with the transferrin receptor and internalized transferrin in endosomes, which suggested that such recycling endosomes are sites for loading peptide onto MHC class I or for peptide transit. Our data demonstrate that pDCs use 'ready-made' stores of MHC class I to rapidly present exogenous antigen to CD8+ T cells.