An important property of dendritic cells (DC), which contributes crucially to their strong immunogenic function, is their capacity to migrate from sites of antigen capture to the draining lymphoid organs. Here we studied in detail the migratory pathway and the differentiation of DC during migration in a skin organ culture model and, for comparison, in the conventional contact hypersensitivity system. We report several observations on the capacity of cutaneous DC to migrate in mouse ear skin. (i) Upon application of contact allergens in vivo the density of Langerhans cells in epidermal sheets decreased, as determined by immunostaining for major histocompatibility complex class II, ADPase, F4/80, CD11b, CD32, NLDC-145/DEC-205, and the cytoskeleton protein vimentin. Evaluation was performed by computer assisted morphometry. (ii) Chemically related nonsensitizing or tolerizing compounds left the density of Langerhans cells unchanged. (iii) Immunohistochemical double-staining of dermal sheets from skin organ cultures for major histocompatibility complex class II and CD54 excluded blood vessels as a cutaneous pathway of DC migration. (iv) Electron microscopy of organ cultures revealed dermal accumulations of DC (including Birbeck granule containing Langerhans cells) within typical lymphatic vessels. (v) Populations of migrating DC in organ cultures upregulated markers of maturity (the antigen recognized by monoclonal antibody 2A1, CD86), but retained indicators of immaturity (invariant chain, residual antigen processing function). These data provide additional evidence that during both the induction of contact hypersensitivity and in skin organ culture, Langerhans cells physically leave the epidermis. Both Langerhans cells and dermal DC enter lymphatic vessels. DC mature while they migrate through the skin.