Resting dendritic cells (DCs) are resident in most tissues and can be activated by environmental stimuli to mature into potent antigen-presenting cells. One important stimulus for DC activation is infection; DCs can be triggered through receptors that recognize microbial components directly or by contact with infection-induced cytokines. We show here that murine DCs undergo phenotypic maturation upon exposure to type I interferons (type I IFNs) in vivo or in vitro. Moreover, DCs either derived from bone marrow cells in vitro or isolated from the spleens of normal animals express IFN-alpha and IFN-beta, suggesting that type I IFNs can act in an autocrine manner to activate DCs. Consistent with this idea, the ability to respond to type I IFN was required for the generation of fully activated DCs from bone marrow precursors, as DCs derived from the bone marrow of mice lacking a functional receptor for type I IFN had reduced expression of costimulatory and adhesion molecules and a diminished ability to stimulate naive T-cell proliferation compared with DCs derived from control bone marrow. Furthermore, the addition of neutralizing anti-IFN-alpha/beta antibody to purified splenic DCs in vitro partially blocked the "spontaneous" activation of these cells, inhibiting the upregulation of costimulatory molecules, secretion of IFN-gamma, and T-cell stimulatory activity. These results show that DCs both secrete and respond to type I IFN, identifying type I interferons as autocrine DC activators.