To ascertain whether the development of dendritic cells (DC) in mouse lymphoid organs is dependent on granulocyte/macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), we determined the number of DC in the thymus, spleen and lymph nodes of normal mice, of mice with the genes coding for GM-CSF or its receptor inactivated, and of transgenic mice with excessive levels of GM-CSE DC were extracted from the tissues and enriched prior to flow cytometric analysis. The total DC level and the incidence of DC expressing lymphoid-related markers (CD8(hi) CD11b(lo)) and myeloid-related markers (CD8(lo) CD11b(hi)) were monitored. Both in GM-CSF null mice, and GM-CSF receptor null mice, DC of all surface phenotypes were present in all lymphoid organs; only small decreases in DC levels were recorded, except for the lymph nodes of GM-CSF receptor null mice which showed a more pronounced (threefold) decrease in DC numbers. Since the GM-CSF receptor null mice lacked the beta chain common to the GM-CSF, interleukin (IL)-3 and IL-5 receptors, the development of DC in the absence of GM-CSF was not due to common beta chain mediated developmental signals elicited by IL-3 or IL-5. In GM-CSF transgenic mice, there was only a 50 % increase in DC numbers in thymus and spleen, paralleling an increase in overall cellularity, but a more pronounced (threefold) increase in DC numbers in lymph nodes. There was no evidence that GM-CSF had a selective effect on any particular DC subpopulation defined by CD8 or CD11b expression. We conclude that the development of most lymphoid tissue DC can proceed in the absence of GM-CSF, although this cytokine can produce some elevation of DC levels. It is not clear whether the enhancing effect of GM-CSF is direct or an indirect effect mediated by other cytokines.