Skin sections of clinically involved and clinically normal-looking skin from patients with atopic dermatitis were incubated with anti-human IgE antibodies using the indirect immunoperoxidase technique. Apart from positive dermal anti-IgE staining, positive epidermal anti-IgE staining was also observed. The morphology of the epidermal staining cells suggested the involvement of dendritic cells. This was confirmed by positive immuno-double labelling with OKT6 and anti-IgE. This phenomenon seemed to be specific for atopic dermatitis since skin sections from normal nonatopic controls, patients with allergic asthma, contact dermatitis, and schistosomiasis showed no epidermal anti-IgE staining. To further elucidate the nature of the epidermal anti-IgE staining cells, epidermal cell suspensions were prepared from clinically involved skin from patients with atopic dermatitis. These cell suspensions also showed positive anti-IgE staining cells and positive immuno-double labelling with OKT6 and anti-IgE. Immunogold electron microscopy with anti-IgE on epidermal cell suspensions from patients with atopic dermatitis showed gold particles on the cell membranes of cells containing Birbeck granules, being Langerhans' cells. Epidermal cell suspensions from normal non-atopic controls were negative. The presence of IgE molecules on epidermal Langerhans' cells, which seems to be specific for patients with atopic dermatitis, provides an explanation for the high frequency of positive patch test reactions to inhalant allergens.