The main function of dendritic cells (DC) is to induce the differentiation of naive T lymphocytes into helper cells producing a large array of lymphokines, including interleukin (IL)-2; interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), IL-4, IL-5 and IL-10. The potent immunostimulatory properties of DC develop during a process of maturation that occurs spontaneously in vitro. Since IL-10 has been shown to inhibit Th1 responses, we determined its effect on DC maturation and accessory function. Our data show that DC that have undergone maturation in vitro in the presence of IL-10, have an impaired capacity to induce a Th1-type response in vivo, leading to the development of Th2 lymphocytes. Their inability to promote the synthesis of IFN-gamma seems to correlate with a decreased production of IL-12, an heterodimeric cytokine necessary for optimal generation of Th1-type cells. These results suggest that IL-10 skews the Th1/Th2 balance to Th2 in vivo by selectively blocking IL-12 synthesis by the antigen-presenting cells that play a role of adjuvant of the primary immune response. The cytokines present in the environment at the presentation step may, therefore, determine the class of the immune response induced by DC in vivo, i.e. Th0, Th1 and/or Th2.