We have compared dendritic cells (DC) isolated from mouse spleen, or generated in vitro from bone marrow (BM) precursors cultured in granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and interleukin-4 (IL-4), for the ability to process and present soluble antigen and stimulate major histocompatibility complex (MHC) Class II-restricted T cells. DC from spleen or BM cultures were equally able to stimulate the in vitro proliferation of allogeneic T cells or of antigen-specific T-cell receptor (TCR)-transgenic T cells. Both DC populations also induced comparable levels of IL-2 secretion by a T-cell hybridoma. Therefore, splenic and BM-derived DC express comparable levels of (Antigen + MHC Class II) ligands and/or costimulatory molecules and have comparable ability to stimulate T-cell responses. When presentation of a native protein antigen, rather than peptide, was evaluated, BM-derived DC were at least 50 times better than splenic DC at stimulating the proliferation of TCR-transgenic T cells. The antigen processing ability of the two populations was similar only when splenic DC were used immediately ex vivo. Therefore, unlike spleen DC, BM-derived DC maintain the capacity to process protein antigen for MHC Class II presentation during in vitro culture. Due to these characteristics, BM-derived DC may represent a useful tool in immunotherapy studies, as they combine high T-cell stimulatory properties with the capacity to process and present native antigen.