Dendritic cells (DC), as professional antigen-presenting cells, play a major role in stimulating naive T cell responses in vivo and in vitro, and may exacerbate or modulate T lymphocyte-mediated reactions, such as interactions between a hematopoietic graft and the recipient, eg GVHD and graft-versus-leukemia. Here, we describe a two-stage cell culture system for expansion of functionally active human DC from CD34+ marrow precursors. Optimal outgrowth was achieved by initially culturing CD34+ cells for 5 days in medium containing GM-CSF, MGF and TNF-alpha. Substitution of CD40L and IL-4 for TNF-alpha during a subsequent 5-day subculture increased DC content, such that by 10 days the cultures contained approximately 40% DC as determined by immunophenotype and morphology. An increase in DC purity to 84% at 10 days was achieved by immunomagnetic separation for CD1a+ cells from 5-day cultures and subculturing these cells in medium with IL-4 and CD40L. Reversing the sequence of growth factors during culture and subculture decreased the yield and purity of DC. Expression of CD80 and CD86 was enhanced by adding CD40L and IL-4, and the DC showed stimulatory activity in MLC. In conclusion, we have described a simple two-stage culture system to generate functional DC from CD34+ marrow precursors.