Interest in human dendritic cells (DC) has been heightened recently by the discovery that this cell type is a primary target of the human immunodeficiency virus, the causative agent of AIDS. DC are bone marrow-derived cells with an extraordinarily potent ability to promote the immunological activity of T lymphocytes. Unfortunately, since DC constitute less than 0.5% of peripheral blood mononuclear cells and die within a few days of their isolation, they are not readily accessible to study. We report here that granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), a cytokine with well-recognized effects on granulocyte and macrophage maturation, profoundly affects the morphology and viability of DC isolated from peripheral blood. GM-CSF not only promotes DC survival but also induces DC differentiation to mobile, reversibly adherent cells with long-branched projections. DC cultured in GM-CSF survive for up to 6 wk and retain their ability to stimulate the proliferation of T cells in allogeneic and autologous mixed leukocyte reactions.