Dendritic cells and thymic epithelial cells perform important immunoregulatory functions by presenting antigens in the form of peptides bound to cell-surface major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules to T cells. Whereas B cells are known to present specific antigens efficiently through their surface immunoglobins, a comparable mechanism for the capture and efficient presentation of diverse antigens by dendritic cells and thymic epithelial cells has not previously been described. We show here that their antigen-presentation function is associated with the high-level expression of DEC-205, an integral membrane protein homologous to the macrophage mannose receptor and related receptors which are able to bind carbohydrates and mediate endocytosis. DEC-205 is rapidly taken up by means of coated pits and vesicles, and is delivered to a multivesicular endosomal compartment that resembles the MHC class II-containing vesicles implicated in antigen presentation. Rabbit antibodies that bind DEC-205 are presented to reactive T-cell hybridomas 100-fold more efficiently than rabbit antibodies that do not bind DEC-205. Thus DEC-205 is a novel endocytic receptor that can be used by dendritic cells and thymic epithelial cells to direct captured antigens from the extracellular space to a specialized antigen-processing compartment.