An increase in the tempo of local dendritic cell (DC)-mediated immune surveillance is a recognized feature of the response to acute inflammation at airway mucosal surfaces, and transient up-regulation of the APC functions of these DC preceding their emigration to regional lymph nodes has recently been identified as an important trigger for T cell-mediated airway tissue damage in diseases such as asthma. In this study, using a rat model, we demonstrate that the kinetics of the airway mucosal DC (AMDC) response to challenge with heat-killed bacteria is considerably more rapid and as a consequence more effectively compartmentalized than that in recall responses to soluble Ag. Notably, Ag-bearing AMDC expressing full APC activity reach regional lymph nodes within 30 min of cessation of microbial exposure, and in contrast to recall responses to nonpathogenic Ags, there is no evidence of local expression of APC activity within the airway mucosa preceding DC emigration. We additionally demonstrate that, analogous to that reported in the gut, a subset of airway intraepithelial DC extend their processes into the airway lumen. This function is constitutively expressed within the AMDC population, providing a mechanism for continuous immune surveillance of the airway luminal surface in the absence of "danger", signals.