Dendritic cells have been isolated from the epidermis, dermis, and lymphatics of skin. Cells from each cutaneous compartment can exhibit the distinct morphology, surface phenotype, and strong T-cell-stimulating activity of dendritic cells that are isolated from other organs. Of importance are the mechanisms by which the maturation and movement of dendritic cells are regulated within intact tissues. Epidermal dendritic cells turn over slowly in the steady state. Stimuli, including contact allergens and transplantation, perhaps by inducing a release of cytokines such as granulocyte macrophage-colony-stimulating factor, mobilize these dendritic cells into the dermis and lymph. This migration is accompanied by the maturation of dendritic cell functions; e.g., antigen-presenting major histocompatibility complex molecules and B7 costimulators increase markedly. On the other hand, there is a sizable, steady-state flux of dendritic cells in afferent lymph draining the skin, which suggests a constant traffic through the dermis that is independent of sessile epidermal dendritic cells. When explants of skin are placed in organ culture, dendritic cells emigrate into the medium for 1-3 d. The dendritic cells are mature and can bind tightly to small memory T cells that also migrate in these cultures. The emigrated mixtures of dendritic cells and T cells should be useful in the study of many clinical states. This is illustrated by recent experiments showing that migratory skin cells are readily infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-1. A strong productive infection takes place in the absence of exogenous cytokines, foreign sera, or mitogens or antigens. The dendritic cell-T-cell conjugates are the essential site for infection. This cellular milieu may model events during the sexual transmission of HIV-1, where relevant mucosal surfaces are covered by skin-like epithelia. The capture of CD4+ memory T cells by dendritic cells may explain the chronic drain of immune memory in HIV infection.