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Lung dendritic cells (DCs) from mice were enriched to 92-99% purity using a multistep enrichment protocol which included fluorescence-activated cell sorting. DCs were analyzed for expression of cell surface molecules, function in a mixed leukocyte reaction (MLR), and dependence on accessory molecules in stimulating an MLR. DCs possessed potent accessory properties in vitro, while interstitial macrophages (IM), which are Ia-negative, displayed little MLR-stimulating function of their own. However, IM were capable of enhancing DC-initiated T cell proliferation via a cell contact mechanism. These results indicated that murine lung DCs functioned as stimulators of primary T cell responses, and that cells in the local environment influenced their function. Lung DCs expressed surface molecules typical of DCs from other sites including CD11a, CD54, CD80, and CD86. As is true for DCs in other sites, costimulatory molecules including CD80, CD86, CD40L, CD2, CD54, and CD11a played important roles in lung DC-initiated T cell proliferation. Interestingly, anti-CD86 monoclonal antibody (mAb) had little inhibitory effect on the MLR unless it was added in combination with anti-CD80 mAb. These studies suggest that CD80 on lung DCs can provide a costimulatory signal to allogeneic T cells in the absence of CD86 signaling, but that CD86 functions poorly except when CD80 is also engaged.