Recent work from our laboratory has identified a network of constitutively class II MHC (Ia) bearing dendritic cells (DC) within the epithelium of the conducting airways of laboratory animal species and in humans. The density of DC within the respiratory tract is highest in those areas exposed to greater amounts of inhaled antigen and further work has identified these DC as being critically important in controlling the induction of immune responses within the airways. The DC population in the airway epithelium is renewed every 48-72 h; this represents a more rapid turnover than DC in other tissues which are exposed to a smaller antigenic load. In addition to these results we will discuss other work which shows that airway DC are a very reactive population, comparable with neutrophils in their response to acute inflammatory stimuli and that their numbers and Ia content can be modulated following exposure to topical and systemic steroids. Finally we will discuss the development of these cells after birth and how this may influence the pathogenesis of immune regulated diseases such as asthma and allergic rhinitis.