Dendritic cells (DC) have been generated in vitro from either CD34+ haemopoietic progenitor cells (HPC) or peripheral blood monocytes (Mo) in the presence of specific cytokine combinations, including granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF). Since differences between DC from either source may be important for the clinical use of these antigen-presenting cells (APC), a comparative analysis was performed. HPC were expanded in the presence of interleukin (IL)-3, IL-6 and stem cell factor (SCF) (days 1-7) and subsequently induced by IL-4+ GM-CSF (days 8-26) to differentiate to Langerhans-type cells (pLC). The latter cytokines were similarly used to generate Mo-derived LC (mLC). Maturation of both cell types, pLC and mLC, to interdigitating DC-type cells (iDC) was induced by tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) or lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Analysis of mLC/pLC and miDC/piDC with respect to morphology, phenotype, antigen uptake and presentation revealed a high similarity of DC from either source. The majority of mLC, however, exhibited a more mature differentiation stage, compared to pLC, evidenced from lower numbers of multilaminar MHC class II compartments and less efficient APC function for extracellular protein antigens. Although macropinocytosis was performed by LC, neither LC nor iDC from either source were able to take up > or = 0.5 microm latex beads. However, phagocytosis of 0.5 microm and 1 microm beads was performed by Mo that could subsequently be induced to become iDC, thus providing the unique opportunity to present phagocytosed material in DC-type fashion. Mo may be the preferential source for clinical use of iDC-type cells since preparation and culture are easier to perform and are less costly while APC function is similar to HPC-derived iDC.