Dendritic cells (DC) in nonlymphoid organs can internalize and process foreign antigens before migrating to secondary lymphoid tissues to initiate primary immune responses. However, there is little information on which stimuli promote migration of DC from the tissues. Systemic administration of lipopolysaccharide (LPS), which induces in vivo production of cytokines, led to a reduction in the numbers of major histocompatibility complex class II-positive (Ia+) leukocytes in mouse hearts and kidneys: > 95% of DC were depleted 1-3 d after injection of 50 micrograms LPS. Several lines of evidence indicated that this response was due to migration of DC rather than loss of Ia expression or cytotoxic effects. In skin of treated mice, the number of Ia+ epidermal Langerhans' cells (LC) was reduced, and "cords" of Ia+ leukocytes became evident in the dermis. The latter cells expressed little NLDC145 and may have originated from recruited or resident DC progenitors. Systemic administration of recombinant tumor necrosis factor (rhTNF)-alpha resulted in a decrease in numbers of Ia+ cells in heart and kidney and of epidermal LC, and it also induced dermal cords. Administration of a rh-interleukin (IL)-1 resulted in a decrease in Ia+ cells only in renal medulla, appeared to activate a subset of epidermal LC, and induced dermal cords. Similar microgram doses of rhIL-2 had no obvious effect. Treatment with a neutralizing anti-TNF antiserum before LPS administration inhibited the depletion of LC from skin but not from heart or kidney. Therefore, TNF-alpha and IL-1 alpha may promote DC migration from nonlymphoid tissues and may have differential effects on different DC populations, but it is unclear whether they act on DC directly or indirectly (e.g., via other cytokines).