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Blood. 2003 Jan 15;101(2):611-20. Epub 2002 Sep 5.

Internalization of circulating apoptotic cells by splenic marginal zone dendritic cells: dependence on complement receptors and effect on cytokine production.

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  • 1Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute and Department of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, PA, USA.


Under steady-state conditions, internalization of self-antigens embodied in apoptotic cells by dendritic cells (DCs) resident in peripheral tissue followed by DC migration and presentation of self-peptides to T cells in secondary lymphoid organs are key steps for induction and maintenance of peripheral T-cell tolerance. We show here that, besides this traffic of apoptotic cells mediated by peripheral tissue-resident DCs, splenic marginal zone DCs rapidly ingest circulating apoptotic leukocytes, process apoptotic cell-derived peptides into major histocompatibility complex class II (MHC-II) molecules, and acquire CD8alpha during their mobilization to T-cell areas of splenic follicles. Because apoptotic cells activate complement and some complement factors are opsonins for phagocytosis and play roles in the maintenance of peripheral tolerance, we investigated the role of complement receptors (CRs) in relation to phagocytosis of apoptotic cells by DCs. Apoptotic cell uptake by marginal zone DCs was mediated in part via CR3 (CD11b/CD18) and, to a lesser extent, CR4 (CD11c/CD18) and was reduced significantly in vivo in hypocomplementemic animals. Following phagocytosis of apoptotic cells, DCs exhibited decreased levels of mRNA and secretion of the proinflammatory cytokines interleukin 1alpha (IL-1alpha), IL-1beta, IL-6, IL-12p70, and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), without effect on the anti-inflammatory mediator transforming growth factor beta1 (TGF-beta1). This selective inhibitory effect was at least partially mediated through C3bi-CD11b/CD18 interaction. Characterization of apoptotic cell/DC interaction and its outcome provides insight into the mechanisms by which apoptotic cells affect DC function without disrupting peripheral tolerance.

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