In vitro manipulated dendritic cells (DC) have increasingly been used as a promising vaccine formulation against cancer and infectious disease. However, improved understanding of the immune mechanisms is needed for the development of safe and efficacious mucosal DC immunization. We have developed a murine model of respiratory mucosal immunization by using a genetically manipulated DC vaccine. Within 24 h of intranasal delivery, the majority of vaccine DCs migrated to the lung mucosa and draining lymph nodes and elicited a significant level of T cells capable of IFN-γ secretion and CTL in the airway lumen as well as substantial T cell responses in the spleen. And such T cell responses were associated with enhanced protection against respiratory mucosal intracellular bacterial challenge. In comparison, parenteral i.m. DC immunization did not elicit marked airway luminal T cell responses and immune protection regardless of strong systemic T cell activation. Although repeated mucosal DC delivery boosted Ag-specific T cells in the airway lumen, added benefits to CD8 T cell activation and immune protection were not observed. By using MHC-deficient vaccine DCs, we further demonstrated that mucosal DC immunization-mediated CD8 and CD4 T cell activation does not require endogenous DCs. By using IL-12-deficient vaccine DCs, we also observed that IL-12−/− DCs failed to migrate to the lymph nodes but remained capable of T cell activation. Our observations indicate that mucosal delivery of vaccine DCs represents an effective approach to enhance mucosal T cell immunity, which may operate independent of vaccine IL-12 and endogenous DCs.