Upon cultivation with interferon-γ (IFN-γ ) and granulocyte/macrophage-colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMN) acquire characteristics of dendritic cells, including expression of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II antigens, of the co-stimulatory antigens CD80, CD86 and of CD83, the latter considered to be specific for dendritic cells. Dendritic-like PMN were also able to present to T cells antigens in a MHC class II-restricted manner. To assess whether dendritic-like PMN are also generated in vivo, cells of patients with acute bacterial infections and of patients with chronic inflammatory diseases (primary vasculitis) were tested. During acute infection up to 80% of PMN acquired CD83, but remained negative for MHC class II, CD80 or CD86. PMN of patients with primary vasculitis expressed MHC class II antigens, CD80 and CD86, but not CD83, indicating that up-regulation of MHC class II and of CD83 are not necessarily linked to each other. Indeed, parallel studies with PMN of healthy donors showed that while IFN-γ and granulocyte/macrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) induced both, MHC class II and CD83, tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α selectively induced de novo synthesis of CD83. The function of CD83 on PMN is still elusive. A participation in the MHC class II-restricted antigen presentation could be ruled out, consistent with the segregation of MHC class II and CD83 expression. Regardless, however, of its function, CD83 expression could serve as a marker to differentiate between acute and chronic inflammation.