Initiation of an adoptive immune response against pathogenic organisms, such as bacteria and fungi, may involve phagocytic activity of dendritic cells (DC) or their immature precursors as a prelude to antigen processing and presentation. After intravenous injection of rats with particulate matter, particle-laden cells were detected in the peripheral hepatic lymph. Since it has been known there is a constant efflux of DC from nonlymphoid organs into the draining peripheral lymph, we examined whether these particle-laden cells belonged to the DC or macrophage lineage. The majority of particle-laden cells in lymph showed immature monocyte-like cytology, and the amount of ingested particles was small relative to typical macrophages. We identified these particle-laden cells as DC based on a number of established criteria: (a) they had a phenotype characteristic of rat DC, that is, major histocompatibility complex class Ihigh+ and IIhigh+, intercellular adhesion molecule 1+ and 80% positive with the rat DC-specific mAb OX62; (b) they showed strong stimulating capacity in primary allogeneic mixed leukocyte reaction; (c) in vitro, they had little phagocytic activity; and (d) the kinetics of translocation was similar to that of lymph DC in that they migrated to the thymus-dependent area of the regional nodes. Furthermore, bromodeoxyuridine feeding studies revealed that most of the particle-laden DC were recently produced by the terminal division of precursor cells, at least 45% of them being <5.5 d old. The particle-laden DC, defined as OX62+ latex-laden cells, were first found in the sinusoidal area of the liver, in the liver perfusate, and in spleen cell suspensions, suggesting that the site of particle capture was mainly in the blood marginating pool. It is concluded that the particle-laden cells in the hepatic lymph are recently produced immature DC that manifest a temporary phagocytic activity for intravascular particles during or after the terminal division and that the phagocytic activity is downregulated at a migratory stage when they translocate from the sinusoidal area to the hepatic lymph.