A better understanding of the pathophysiological role of Langerhans cells (LC) in atopic diseases is dictated by the characterization of the structures involved in immunoglobulin (IgE)-binding on their cell surface. We previously reported that human LC express the high affinity receptor for IgE (Fc epsilon RI), as well as the low affinity receptor for IgE (Fc epsilon RII/CD23). In the present study, we document the presence of a third IgE-binding structure on human LC, the IgE-binding protein (epsilon BP), an endogenous soluble beta-galactoside binding lectin. Immunohistochemical studies performed on normal human skin revealed an anti-epsilon BP reactivity in the cytoplasm of keratinocytes and in that of acinous cells of eccrine sweat glands. epsilon BP was also found on the cell surface of LC, as shown by anti-epsilon BP/anti-CD1a double labeling and flow cytometric analysis. Anti-epsilon BP binding to the surface of LC was completely abolished by preincubation with lactose and restored by addition of recombinant human epsilon BP, indicating that epsilon BP binds to LC surface by virtue of its lectin property. Immunoblot analysis of anti-epsilon BP-reactive material in keratinocytes and purified LC disclosed a protein with an apparent molecular weight of 33,000 consistent with epsilon BP. Interestingly, mRNA transcripts for epsilon BP were detected only in keratinocytes but not in purified LC isolated from normal skin. epsilon BP was found to be released in culture supernatants of keratinocytes. Incubation of LC with these supernatants resulted in epsilon BP-binding to LC surface via protein-carbohydrate interaction. Most importantly, we could show that binding of human myeloma IgE to LC was inhibited by epsilon BP. In contrast, neuraminidase-treated human myeloma IgE binds to LC only in the presence of epsilon BP. In situ binding studies revealed that keratinocytes, although containing epsilon BP intracytoplasmatically, failed to exhibit any IgE-binding properties. Collectively, our results suggest that human keratinocytes produce the beta-galactoside-binding lectin epsilon BP, which subsequently binds to the surface of LC where it is functional in modulating their binding capacity for IgE glycoforms.