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Periapical lesions were induced by making 28 days of unsealed pulp exposures in the lower first molars of Wistar rats. Major histocompatibility complex class II molecule-expressing cells were then demonstrated by means of immunoperoxidase staining using a monoclonal antibody OX6, and the ultrastructure of these cells was analyzed under electron microscopy. OX6+ cells were classified into two major populations, (i.e. macrophages and dendritic cell (DC)-like cells. DC-like cells had elongated cytoplasmic processes, contained a few lysosomal structures, lacked distinct phagosomes, and were the most predominant cell type in the established lesion. Some of lymphocytes and plasma cells also showed a positive immunoreactivity. Both OX6+ macrophages and DC-like cells often showed a cell-to-cell attachment with lymphocytes. These findings suggested that major histocompatibility complex class II molecule-expressing macrophages and DC-like cells may play a crucial role in periapical lesion development by acting as antigen-presenting cells to memory T lymphocytes.