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Hum Immunol. 2002 Dec;63(12):1111-9.

Plasmacytoid dendritic cells: the key to CpG.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Clinical Pharmacology, University of Munich, Munich, Germany.


The vertebrate immune system has established TLR9 to detect microbial DNA based on unmethylated CG dinucleotides within certain sequence contexts (CpG motifs). In humans, the expression of toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) is restricted to B cells and plasmacytoid dendritic cells (PDC). The PDC is characterized by the ability to rapidly synthesize large amounts of type I IFN (IFN-alpha and IFN-beta) in response to viral infection. In contrast to other dendritic cell subsets which express a broad profile of TLRs, the TLR profile in PDC is restricted to TLR7 and TLR9. So far, CpG DNA is the only defined microbial molecule recognized by PDC. An intriguing feature of PDC is its ability to simultaneously produce the two major Th1-inducing cytokines in humans, IFN-alpha and IL-12, both at high levels. The ratio of IFN-alpha versus IL-12 and the quantity of these cytokines are regulated by T helper cell-mediated costimulation via CD40 ligation. The ratio also depends on the differentiation stage of the PDC at the time of stimulation and the type of CpG ODN used. We propose a model in which the establishment of Th1 responses in vivo is improved by appropriately stimulated PDC that otherwise - in the absence of CpG DNA--support Th2 or Th0 responses and thus have been called DC2.

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