In this study, we compared the effects of zymosan and LPS on human monocyte-derived dendritic cells. The specific effects of zymosan on the expression of several key cytokines, including granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and interleukins (IL-1 alpha, IL-1 beta and IL-12 p70) were quite distinct from the effects of LPS. Unlike activation with LPS, DCs activated by zymosan expressed little or no IL-12 p70 due to lack of expression of the p35 subunit. However, treatment with zymosan resulted in a substantial increase in Th1 and Th17 cell-polarizing capacity of DCs. Furthermore, the GM-CSF secreted by zymosan-activated DCs enhanced IL-23 production, resulting in activation of a Th17 response. GM-CSF and IL-27, rather than IL-12 p70, were both major direct contributors to the activation of a Th1 response. This signaling mechanism is distinct and yet complementary to LPS-mediated T-cell activation. We suggest that this novel zymosan-induced GM-CSF-mediated signaling network may play a key role in regulating specific immune cell type activities. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.