We recently reported that the mannan component of Trichophyton rubrum cell wall (TRM) has an inhibitory influence on cell-mediated immune function in vitro. We now describe experiments designed to identify the target cell for this effect of TRM. T. rubrum mannan labeled with fluorescein (FITC-TRM) was incubated with peripheral blood mononuclear leukocytes, monocytes, or lymphocytes. Binding and uptake of the FITC-TRM were monitored by fluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry. Approximately 10% of mononuclear leukocytes were stained with this reagent and the fluorescent cells appeared to be monocytes by morphology. Virtually all purified monocytes and no purified lymphocytes stained with FITC-TRM. Flow cytometry to analyze FITC-TRM monocyte-specific binding of FITC-TRM involved the use of a phycoerythrin-labeled anti-CD14 antibody to identify monocytes. The only cells stained with FITC-TRM were those stained with the monocyte-specific antibody. The ability of monocytes to endocytose mannan was assessed by fluorescence microscopy. Cells were exposed to FITC-TRM and washed, and the staining pattern recorded periodically over a 48-h incubation period. After 15 min, staining was homogeneous and involved the entire cell surface; by 30 min, "patching" was observed; by 90 min, bright granules had formed along the cell border and a large number of small granules were present in the cytoplasm; by 8-12 h, the fluorescent granules were enlarged in size and reduced in number; by 24-36 h, the intensity of cytoplasmic fluorescence began to diminish; and, after 48 h, all fluorescent staining had disappeared. An additional feature of staining during the 8-12-h period was the appearance of a large round bright spot in the nuclear region of each cell, which may represent nucleolar staining. A role for "mannan receptors" is suggested by observations that FITC-TRM binding was prevented by unlabeled TRM or pretreatment of the monocytes with trypsin. Our finding that monocytes selectively and specifically bind TRM appears to identify the monocyte rather than the lymphocyte as the target cell for the inhibitory effect of mannan on cell-mediated immune function.