DC derived from rat pseudo-afferent lymph (L-DC) vary in CD4, CD11b/c, Thy1, and OX41 expression. CD4 and OX41 are expressed by the same subpopulation (50-60%) of L-DC. CD4+/OX41+ L-DC express short fine processes and low nonspecific esterase, whereas CD4- DC/OX41- express long pseudopodia, high nonspecific esterase, and many cytoplasmic inclusions. These differences are stable in culture. Both populations express similar amounts of MHC class II, ICAM-1, CD11b/c and OX62. Most CD4-/OX41- L-DC are strongly positive for B7, but CD4+ L-DC express less B7, and some may be negative. Both populations express invariant chain, but both the absolute numbers and levels of expression were higher for CD4- DC. Surprisingly, CD4+ L-DC are more potent APC than CD4- cells in MLRs, for sensitized T cells in vitro and for naive T cells in vivo. Cultured CD4+/OX41+ DC can still process and present native Ag. Cultured CD4-/OX41- cells cannot present native Ag but can stimulate strong MLRs. CD4- DC invariant chain expression decreases in culture, whereas expression by CD4+ DC is stable for 48 h. CD4+ and CD4- L-DC have similar turnover times in vivo, suggesting that one population is not the precursor of the other. Thus, two separate DC populations that differ functionally and phenotypically migrate from intestine to mesenteric nodes. This may reflect distinct DC lineages or differentiation modulated by different microenvironmental stimuli.