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The human myeloid cell line U937 was evaluated as an in vitro test system to identify contact sensitizers in order to develop alternatives to animal tests for the cosmetic industry. Specific culture conditions (i.e., presence of interleukin-4, IL-4) were applied to obtain a dendritic cell-like phenotype. In the described test protocol, these cells were exposed to test chemicals and then analyzed by flow cytometry for CD86 expression and by quantitative real-time reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction for IL-1β and IL-8 gene expressions. Eight sensitizers, three non-sensitizers and five oxidative hair dye precursors were examined after 24-, 48- and 72-h exposure times. Test item-specific modulations of the chosen activation markers (CD86, IL-1β and IL-8) suggest that this U937 activation test could discriminate test items classified as contact sensitizers or non-sensitizers in the local lymph node assay in mice (LLNA). More specifically, a test item can be considered as a potential sensitizer when it significantly induced the upregulation of the expression of at least two markers. Using this approach, we could correctly evaluate the dendritic cell (DC) activation potential for 15 out of 16 tested chemicals. We conclude that the U937 activation test may represent an useful tool in a future in vitro test battery for predicting sensitizing properties of chemicals.