Interleukin 12 (IL-12) is a 70-kD proinflammatory cytokine produced by antigen presenting cells that is essential for the induction of T helper type 1 development. It comprises 35-kD (p35) and 40-kD (p40) polypeptides encoded by separate genes that are induced by a range of stimuli that include lipopolysaccharide (LPS), DNA, and CD40 ligand. To date, the regulation of IL-12 expression at the transcriptional level has mainly been examined in macrophages and restricted almost exclusively to the p40 gene. Here we show that in CD8(+) dendritic cells, major producers of IL-12 p70, the Rel/nuclear factor (NF)-kappaB signaling pathway is necessary for the induction of IL-12 in response to microbial stimuli. In contrast to macrophages which require c-Rel for p40 transcription, in CD8(+) dendritic cells, the induced expression of p35 rather than p40 by inactivated Staphylococcus aureus, DNA, or LPS is c-Rel dependent and regulated directly by c-Rel complexes binding to the p35 promoter. This data establishes the IL-12 p35 gene as a new target of c-Rel and shows that the regulation of IL-12 p70 expression at the transcriptional level by Rel/NF-kappaB is controlled through both the p35 and p40 genes in a cell type-specific fashion.