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Pleural mononuclear phagocytes (PleMP) were isolated from normal rats by pleural lavage and compared with autologous peritoneal (PerMP) and bronchoalveolar mononuclear phagocytes (BAMP) isolated by peritoneal and bronchoalveolar lavage, respectively. The phagocytic activity of PleMP, PerMP, and BAMP, evaluated by testing their ability to ingest latex beads, was lower for PleMP and PerMP than for BAMP. The phenotype of PleMP, PerMP, and BAMP was characterized by immunocytochemical staining with a panel of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). As expected, PleMP, PerMP, and BAMP did not react with OX19, OX33, ED5, MOM/3F12/F2, and anticytokeratin mAbs, specific for T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes, dendritic cells, granulocytes, and epithelial/mesothelial cells, respectively. Moreover, PleMP and PerMP populations were highly enriched with OX6-, OX42-, ED7-, and ED8-positive MP, whereas BAMP population was enriched with ED1- and ED9-positive cells. To test the ability of PleMP, PerMP, and BAMP to function as accessory cells (AC), mitomycin C-treated MP were used as stimulatory cells in mixed leukocyte reaction experiments, using allogeneic T cells as responders. 3HdTR incorporation by T cells was assessed as an index of AC function. PleMP and PerMP were more potent AC than BAMP. Moreover, when cultured together with autologous pulmonary interstitial dendritic cells, PleMP and PerMP exerted a more potent ability to stimulate T-cell proliferation than did BAMP. To investigate the capacity of MP to function as bactericidal and fungicidal cells, we tested their ability to kill Escherichia coli and Cryptococcus neoformans, respectively. PleMP and PerMP were less potent bactericidal and fungicidal cells than BAMP. The results of this study demonstrate that PleMP isolated from normal rat pleural space are functionally and phenotypically different from BAMP but similar to PerMP, and suggest that these cells might play an important role in cell-mediated immune reactions in the pleural space.