Class I and class II MHC molecules bind peptides during their biosynthetic maturation and provide a continuously updated display of intracellular and environmental protein composition, respectively, for scrutiny by T cells. Receptor-mediated endocytosis, phagocytosis, and macropinocytosis all contribute to antigen uptake by class II MHC-positive antigen-presenting cells. Capture of antigenic peptides by class II MHC molecules is facilitated because antigen catabolism and class II MHC maturation take place in the same compartments or in communicating compartments of the endosome/lysosome system. These class II MHC-rich, multivesicular endosomes receive incoming antigen and can support not only antigen processing and class II MHC peptide loading but also the export of peptide/class II MHC complexes to the cell surface. A balance between production and destruction of antigenic peptides is achieved by the activity of local proteases and may be influenced by binding of antigen to other proteins both prior to the onset of processing (e.g. antibodies) and during antigen unfolding (e.g. MHC molecules). T cell determinants that can be released for MHC binding without a substantial processing requirement may be able to utilize a distinct minor population of cell surface class II MHC molecules that become available during peripheral recycling. Although peptides derived from exogenous protein sources are usually excluded from presentation on class I MHC molecules, recent evidence shows that this embargo may be lifted in certain professional antigen-presenting cells to increase the spectrum of antigens that may be displayed on class I MHC.