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Human peripheral blood-derived dendritic cells (DC) respond to a variety of chemical allergens by up-regulating expression of the co-stimulatory molecule CD86. It has been postulated that this measure might provide the basis for an in vitro alternative approach for the identification of skin sensitizing chemicals. We recently reported that DC, exposed in culture to the highest non-cytotoxic concentrations of various chemical allergens, displayed marginal up-regulation of membrane CD86 expression; the interpretation being that such changes were insufficiently sensitive for the purposes of hazard identification. For the work presented here, immature DC were derived from human monocytes and treated with the chemical allergens 2,4-dinitrobenzenesulfonic acid (DNBS), nickel sulfate (NiSO4), p-phenylenediamine (PPD), Bandrowski's base (BB), hydroquinone (HQ) and propyl gallate (PG) for 48 h at concentrations which induced both no to slight to moderate cytotoxicity. For comparison, DC were treated with the irritants sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS), benzoic acid (BA), and benzalkonium chloride (BZC) at concentrations resulting in comparable levels of cytotoxicity. CD86 expression, as measured by flow cytometry, was consistently up-regulated (ranging from 162 to 386% control) on DC treated with concentrations of chemical allergens that induced approximately 10–15% cytotoxicity. The irritants BA and BZC did not induce up-regulation of CD86 expression when tested at concentrations that induced similar levels of cytotoxicity. SDS, however, up-regulated CD86 expression to 125–138% of control in 2/4 preparations when tested at concentrations which induced similar toxicity. Our results confirm that chemical allergens up-regulate CD86 expression on blood-derived DC and illustrate further that up-regulation of CD86 surface marker expression is more robust when DC are treated with concentrations of chemical allergen that induce slight to moderate cytotoxicity.