AIMS: To measure Langerhans' cells in skin of patients treated by bone marrow transplantation who developed chronic graft versus host disease (GvHD); to determine whether the reduction in Langerhans' cells resulted directly from the GvHD or from other factors, such as the immunosuppressive regimens used in bone marrow transplant patients. PATIENTS AND METHODS: Lesional and nonlesional skin specimens from nine patients with lichen planus-like lesions and three patients with sclerodermoid lesions were studied. Control skin specimens were taken from three patients undergoing breast reduction surgery. The number of Langerhans' cells/mm2 and the area of Langerhans' cells as a percentage of total epidermis were measured by counting cells labelled with antihuman CD1a. RESULTS: A significant reduction in Langerhans' cell area and number were found in specimens with lesions (area 3.5%; number 507/mm2) compared with specimens without lesions (8.42%; 2375/mm2). In contrast, Langerhans' cell area and number in skin without lesions were similar to controls (10.26%; 2968/mm2). CONCLUSIONS: Langerhans' cells were significantly reduced in skin with lesions of chronic GvHD but not in skin without lesions from the same patient, suggesting that the reduction is a direct consequence of GvHD and not linked to immunosuppressive drugs or late effects of conditioning regimens. In long term bone marrow transplant recipients, Langerhans' cells are derived mainly from the donor cells; therefore, this result suggests the occurrence of autoreactive phenomenon in chronic GvHD.