Dendritic cells, such as epidermal Langerhans cells, play a crucial role for the antigen-specific priming of T cells. We have addressed the question whether dendritic cells present collagen, a major protein component in tissues through which dendritic cells migrate, i.e. the basement membrane, dermis, and synovial tissue. Langerhans cells, spleen cells and peritoneal macrophages were compared for antigen-presenting capacity using a panel of mouse T cell hybridomas reactive with different determinants on type II collagen, myelin basic protein, ovalbumin and pepsin. Langerhans cells did not present any of the type II collagen determinants, unless the antigen was administered as a 15-mer peptide, but did present myelin basic protein, ovalbumin and pepsin. Spleen cells and peritoneal macrophages, in contrast, presented all type II collagen determinants. This biased antigen presentation was also observed when Langerhans cells were pulsed with antigen in vivo. The inability to present type II collagen is related to the collagen sequence as such, since both native type II collagen, type II collagen alpha chains, as well as a type II collagen determinant incorporated in type I collagen, were not presented by Langerhans cells. In addition, granulocyte/macrophage colony-stimulating factor-expanded blood dendritic cells displayed the same biased antigen presentation, suggesting that the inability to present collagen is not restricted to dendritic cells localized in epidermis. B cell-deficient mice could prime a type II collagen-reactive T cell response, thus excluding B cells as obligatory antigen-presenting cells for the priming of collagen-reactive T cells. We suggest that neither Langerhans cells nor B cells, but macrophages are the primary antigen-presenting cells in the immune response towards type II collagen.