Dendritic cells (DC) are widely distributed in the lung where they are distinguished by their morphology and class II major histocompatibility complex (Ia) antigen expression. Although a role for DC as pulmonary antigen-presenting cell (APC) has been suggested, little is currently known concerning how these cells respond to inhaled antigens in vivo. Hen-egg lysozyme (HEL) was injected intratracheally into Lewis rats; DC were subsequently purified from the lung and regional lymph nodes (LN) at intervals of up to 14 d and examined for their ability to stimulate the proliferation of HEL-immune T cells in vitro in the absence of added HEL. Pulmonary DC displayed APC activities at 3 h and for up to 7 d after the injection of antigen. Dendritic cells in the draining hilar LN showed APC activities that appeared at 24 h, peaked at day 3, and then diminished progressively. After the primary sensitization, HEL-immune T cells were detected in hilar LN but not in the lung. A second airway challenge with HEL at day 14 yielded an antigen-specific pulmonary immune response, characterized histologically by the accumulation of mononuclear cells around lung venules. We conclude that APC activities shift from lung to lymph node during the response to inhaled antigen.