During the induction phase of contact sensitization and other cutaneous immune responses a proportion of epidermal Langerhans cells (LC) is induced to leave the skin and migrate via afferent lymphatics to lymph nodes draining the site of exposure. The cells that accumulate in draining nodes have acquired the characteristics of immunostimulatory dendritic cells and effectively present antigen to responsive T lymphocytes. In the present study we have questioned whether LC in the epidermis and the lymph node dendritic cells into which they develop express interleukin-6 (IL-6), a cytokine that has been shown to serve as an important costimulator of T lymphocyte activation. In situ immunocytochemical analyses using a biotin-streptavidin staining technique revealed that dendritic cells resident in the epidermis of untreated mice constitutively express this cytokine. Keratinocytes expressed detectable IL-6 only following local exposure to the contact allergen oxazolone. Such treatment also appeared to enhance the expression by epidermal dendritic cells of this cytokine. Analyses of unfractionated and LC-enriched and -depleted populations of epidermal cells revealed a close correlation between major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II (Ia) antigen expression and staining for IL-6, implicating LC as the sole or major source of this cytokine in unstimulated epidermis. Finally, compared with tissue isolated from mice treated with vehicle alone, draining lymph nodes prepared from animals 18 hr following sensitization with oxazolone displayed a substantial increase in both the frequency of dendritic cells and the number of IL-6+ cells within the paracortex. These data demonstrate that resident epidermal LC and the dendritic cells into which they develop are important sources of IL-6. Their constitutive and inducible expression of this cytokine will facilitate the induction of cutaneous immune responses.