Local immunization in the vagina of several species elicits immune responses, but little is known about the uptake, processing and recognition of antigens at this site. We investigated the uptake of intravaginally administered tracers using FITC-bovine albumin, FITC-horse ferritin and FITC-horseradish peroxidase in non-pregnant and pregnant mice. Tracers were detected in cells in the vaginal epithelium and stroma at diestrus, proestrus and metestrus, but not at estrus. During pregnancy, racers were present in vaginal cells on Day 6 but not on Day 13. The distribution of tracers in the vagina was the same in all mice. They were present in vaginal epithelium in cells similar to Langerhans' cells and in the stroma in cells that resembled dendritic cells, fibroblasts or macrophages. In some non-pregnant mice, tracers were present in cells adjacent to lymphatic nodules located in the adventitia between the vagina and urethra. Tracers were seen in phagocytic cells lining the marginal and medullary sinuses of the draining lymph nodes (iliac nodes) in some non-pregnant mice at 4 h after intravaginal administration, or in small, dendritic cells in the paracortex at 17 h. To test the possibility that transfer of proteins into the vagina was due to toxic effects of the tracers, FITC-conjugated proteins were also administered into the lumen of uterine horns, and their distribution in horns, cervix and vagina was studied. In uterine horns, tracers were either absent or were located only in apical vesicles in the luminal epithelium. Tracers were present in the cervix and vagina as described above for intravaginal tracers. This result suggests that uptake of tracers in the vagina was not due to toxic effects, and that the vagina and cervix are major sites of protein uptake into the reproductive tract.