After uptake by the endosome of an antigen-presenting cell (APC), exogenous proteins are known to be degraded into peptides by protease digestion. Here, we report the mechanism by which pure carbohydrates can be depolymerized within APC endosomes/lysosomes by nitric oxide (NO)-derived reactive nitrogen species (RNSs) and/or superoxide-derived reactive oxygen species (ROSs). Earlier studies showed that depolymerization of polysaccharide A (PSA) from Bacteroides fragilis in the endosome depends on the APC's having an intact inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) gene; the chemical mechanism underlying depolymerization of a carbohydrate within the endosome/lysosome is described here. Examining the ability of the major RNSs to degrade PSA, we determined that deamination is the predominant mechanism for PSA processing in APCs and is a required step in PSA presentation to CD4(+) T cells by MHCII molecules. Structural characterization of the NO-derived product PSA-NO indicates that partial deaminative depolymerization does not alter the zwitterionic nature of PSA. Unlike native PSA, PSA-NO is presented by iNOS-deficient APCs to induce CD4(+) T cell proliferation. Furthermore, metabolically active APCs are required for PSA-NO presentation. In contrast to PSA degradation by RNSs, dextran depolymerization in the endosome depends on ROSs, including hydrogen peroxide- and superoxide-derived ROSs. This study provides evidence that MHCII pathway-mediated carbohydrate antigen processing in APCs is achieved by chemical reactions. RNSs and ROSs may be involved in the presentation of glycopeptides by MHC molecules via the processing of other carbohydrate-containing antigens, such as bacterial or viral glycoproteins or glycoconjugate vaccines.