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Dendritic cells (DC) are the initiators of immune responses and are present in most tissues in vivo. To generate myeloid DC from monocytes (MoDC) in vitro the necessary cytokines are granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and interleukin-4 (IL-4). Using degenerated primers delineated from other species and rapid amplification of cDNA ends reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RACE RT-PCR), the cDNA of equine (eq.) GM-CSF was cloned and found to have a point deletion at the 3'-end of eq.GM-CSF, resulting in a 24-nucleotide extended open reading frame not described in any species thus far. For differentiating eq.MoDC, monocytes were stimulated with eq.GM-CSF and eq.IL-4. The eq.MoDC was analysed by both light and electron microscopy and by flow cytometry and mixed lymphocyte reaction. The eq.MoDC obtained had the typical morphology and function of DC, including the ability to stimulate allogeneic T cells in a mixed lymphocyte reaction. In contrast to the human system, however, monocytes had to be differentiated for 6-7 days before immature DC were obtained. Our data also indicate that lipopolysaccharide or poly(I:C) alone are not sufficient to confer the full phenotypic transition into mature DC. Thus our study contributes to understanding the heterogeneity of immunity and adds important information on the equine immune system, which is clearly distinct from those of mice or man.