Intact human pregnancy can be regarded as an immunological paradox in that the maternal immune system accepts the allogeneic embryo without general immunosuppression. Because dendritic cell (DC) subsets could be involved in peripheral tolerance, the uterine mucosa (decidua) was investigated for DC populations. Here we describe the detailed immunohistochemical and functional characterization of HLA-DR-positive antigen-presenting cells (APCs) in early pregnancy decidua. In contrast to classical macrophages and CD83(+) DCs, which were found in comparable numbers in decidua and nonpregnant endometrium, only decidua harbored a significant population of HLA-DR(+)/DC-SIGN(+) APCs further phenotyped as CD14(+)/CD4(+)/CD68(+/-)/CD83(-)/CD25(-). These cells exhibited a remarkable proliferation rate (9.2 to 9.8% of all CD209(+) cells) by double staining with Ki67 and proliferating cell nuclear antigen. Unique within the DC-family, the majority of DC-SIGN(+) decidual APCs were observed in situ to have intimate contact with CD56(+)/CD16(-)/ICAM-3(+) decidual natural killer cells, another pregnancy-restricted cell population. In vitro, freshly isolated CD14(+)/DC-SIGN(+) decidual cells efficiently took up antigen, but could not stimulate naive allogeneic T cells at all. Treatment with an inflammatory cytokine cocktail resulted in down-regulation of antigen uptake capacity and evolving capacity to effectively stimulate resting T cells. Fluorescence-activated cell sorting analysis confirmed the maturation of CD14(+)/DC-SIGN(+) decidual cells into CD25(+)/CD83(+) mature DCs. In summary, this is the first identification of a uterine immature DC population expressing DC-SIGN, that appears only in pregnancy-associated tissue, has a high proliferation rate, and a conspicuous association with a natural killer subset.