We have addressed the notion that the initiation and progression of human papillomavirus associated cancer of the uterine cervix are associated with alterations of Langerhans cells (LC) within the mucosal squamous epithelium. Since the transformation zone (TZ) of the cervix is the site where the majority of squamous intraepithelial lesions (SIL) are initiated, in contrast to the exocervix, we decided to investigate the influence of the local microenvironment within the TZ on the function and density of LC. We show that the TZ is associated with a significant reduction in the density of immature LC (CD1a/LAG) compared to the exocervix. In contrast, the development of SILs is attributed with a relative increased density of immature LC, compared to the TZ. Furthermore, we show that this variability in LC density is correlated with a differential expression of TNFα and MIP3α within the micro-environment of the TZ and SILs. Both TZ and SIL epithelium-derived LC, in the presence of allogeneic PBMC, induced lower levels of proliferation and IL2 production and higher levels of the immunosuppressive cytokine IL10 in comparison to the exocervix. Nevertheless, the epithelium-derived LC in SILs exhibits a reduction in their functional activity, relative to the TZ. Together our studies suggest that the immunosurveillance within the epithelium of the TZ may be intrinsically perturbed due to the altered expression of chemokines/cytokines and the concomitant diminished density of LC. Furthermore, following HPV infection and the development of SILs, the function of LC may be further incapacitated by viral associated mechanisms. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.