Dendritic cells (DCs) are very potent antigen-presenting cells and play critical roles in regulating immune responses in cancer. The migrating of DCs from the tumor site to the lymphoid organs is believed to be one of the critical events. To examine this important DC function in tumor situations, bone marrow-derived DCs, cultured for 6 days with granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor and interleukin 4, were inoculated at the tumor site. We have shown (Y. Nishioka et al., Cancer Res., 59: 40354041, 1999) that DCs can migrate from tumor site to the draining lymph nodes within 24 h (approximately 0.1% of administrated DCs). The DCs then form clusters with adjacent lymphoid cells, which produce IFN-gamma (1500-3200pg/10(6) cells/48 h) in response to tumor stimulation. The number of the DCs migrating into lymph nodes were greater when they were inoculated into the tumor rather than the skin. Coculture of DCs and apoptotic tumor cells resulted in decreased expression of CC chemokine receptor (CCR) 1 and increased CCR7 expression at mRNA level without alteration in other phenotypical markers on DCs. Chemotaxis assay showed that CCR7 ligands, macrophage inflammatory protein 3beta and secondary lymphoid-tissue chemokine significantly (P < 0.05) induced the migration of DCs when cocultured with apoptotic tumor cells. To directly examine the involvement of CCR7 expression in DC migration, we investigated the functions of DCs genetically modified to express high levels of CCR7. CCR7 transduction promotes DC migration in response to relevant ligands in vitro and in vivo. These results suggest that the CCR7 expression of DCs is enhanced with direct contact with apoptotic tumor cells and may have a critical role for DC migrating to regional lymph nodes. The means to promote DC delivery to tumor and to nodal sites represent novel targets for the biological therapy of cancer.