DCs (dendritic cells) function as sentinels of the immune system. They traffic from the blood to the tissues where, while immature, they capture antigens. They then leave the tissues and move to the draining lymphoid organs where, converted into mature DC, they prime naive T cells. This suggestive link between DC traffic pattern and functions led us to investigate the chemokine responsiveness of DCs during their development and maturation. DCs were differentiated either from CD34(+) hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs) cultured with granulocyte/macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) plus tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha or from monocytes cultured with GM-CSF plus interleukin 4. Immature DCs derived from CD34(+) HPCs migrate most vigorously in response to macrophage inflammatory protein (MIP)-3alpha, but also to MIP-1alpha and RANTES (regulated on activation, normal T cell expressed and secreted). Upon maturation, induced by either TNF-alpha, lipopolysaccharide, or CD40L, DCs lose their response to these three chemokines when they acquire a sustained responsiveness to a single other chemokine, MIP-3beta. CC chemokine receptor (CCR)6 and CCR7 are the only known receptors for MIP-3alpha and MIP-3beta, respectively. The observation that CCR6 mRNA expression decreases progressively as DCs mature, whereas CCR7 mRNA expression is sharply upregulated, provides a likely explanation for the changes in chemokine responsiveness. Similarly, MIP-3beta responsiveness and CCR7 expression are induced upon maturation of monocyte- derived DCs. Furthermore, the chemotactic response to MIP-3beta is also acquired by CD11c+ DCs isolated from blood after spontaneous maturation. Finally, detection by in situ hybridization of MIP-3alpha mRNA only within inflamed epithelial crypts of tonsils, and of MIP-3beta mRNA specifically in T cell-rich areas, suggests a role for MIP-3alpha/CCR6 in recruitment of immature DCs at site of injury and for MIP-3beta/CCR7 in accumulation of antigen-loaded mature DCs in T cell-rich areas.