Epidermal Langerhans cells (LC) play a critical role in host defense. Still we know rather little about the development and functional specialization of these bone marrow-derived dendritic cells (DC) located in the most peripheral ectodermal tissue of the mammalian organism. How LC develop from their primitive progenitors in bone marrow and to what extent LC are related in their development to other lineages of the hemopoietic system is still under debate. There are currently 3 major areas of debate: 1) which are the signals required for LC development and differentiation to occur, 2) what are the (molecular) characteristics of the intermediate stages of LC differentiation, and 3) how are LC related in their development and/or function to other cells of the hemopoietic system? A better understanding of LC development and answers to these questions can be expected from recently developed technologies which allow the in vitro generation of DC with the typical molecular, morphological and functional features of LC from purified CD34+ progenitor cells under defined serum-free culture conditions. TGF-beta 1 was found to be an absolute requirement for in vitro LC development under serum-free conditions upon stimulation with the classical DC growth and differentiation factors GM-CSF, TNF-alpha and SCF. The recently identified cytokine FLT3 ligand further dramatically enhanced in vitro LC development and even allowed efficient in vitro generation of LC colonies from serum-free single cell cultures of CD34+ hemopoietic progenitor cells.