We investigated the possibility that T helper cells might enhance the stimulatory function of dendritic cells (DCs). We found that ligation of CD40 by CD40L triggers the production of extremely high levels of bioactive IL-12. Other stimuli such as microbial agents, TNF-alpha or LPS are much less effective or not at all. In addition, CD40L is the most potent stimulus in upregulating the expression of ICAM-1, CD80, and CD86 molecules on DCs. These effects of CD40 ligation result in an increased capacity of DCs to trigger proliferative responses and IFN-gamma production by T cells. These findings reveal a new role for CD40-CD40L interaction in regulating DC function and are relevant to design therapeutic strategies using cultured DCs.