The mechanism by which mycobacteria elicit class I-restricted T-cell responses remains undefined because these organisms have been shown to reside exclusively within membrane-bound vesicles in macrophages (Mphi), their primary host cells. We studied the interaction of M. avium with dendritic cells (DC) because they are the most potent antigen-presenting cells and are abundant at M. avium infection sites. We observed that both DC and Mphi, generated from human peripheral blood monocytes by short-term culture, internalized M. avium. The onset of programmed cell death and the percentage of apoptotic cells in infected DC and Mphi were comparable. However, following infection, DC secreted significantly larger amounts of interleukin-12, but not interleukin-1beta, than infected autologous Mphi. Further analysis of infected cells showed that while phagosomes failed to acidify in both M. avium-infected DC and Mphi, bacilli grew more slowly in DC. Electron microscopy studies revealed that M. avium resided within endocytic vacuoles in both cell types. The vacuolar membrane surrounding some bacilli in approximately 10% of the vacuoles in DC possessed several breaks. The importance of this finding will have to be addressed in future studies.