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J Leukoc Biol. 2005 Mar;77(3):352-60. Epub 2004 Dec 8.

Fetal and neonatal murine skin harbors Langerhans cell precursors.

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  • 1Division of Immunology, Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Medical University of Vienna, Lazarettgasse 19, A-1090 Vienna, Austria.


Resident epidermal Langerhans cells (LC) in adult mice express ADPase, major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II, and CD205 and CD207 molecules, while the first dendritic leukocytes that colonize the fetal and newborn epidermis are only ADPase(+). In this study, we tested whether dendritic epidermal leukocytes (DEL) are end-stage cells or represent LC precursors. In epidermal sheets of fetal and neonatal mice, we found no apoptotic leukocytes, suggesting that these cells do not die in situ. To address whether DEL can give rise to LC, sorted DEL from murine newborn skin were cultured with cytokines used to generate LC from human CD34(+) precursors. After 7-14 days, DEL proliferated and acquired the morphology and phenotype of cells reminiscent of LC. In concordance with this finding, we show that neonatal epidermis harbors 10-20 times the number of cycling MHC class II(+) leukocytes as adult tissue. To test whether LC can differentiate from skin precursors in vivo, we developed a transplantation model. As it was impossible to transplant fetal epidermis, whole fetal skin was grafted onto adult severe combined immunodeficient mice. As opposed to the uniform absence of donor LC at the time of transplantation, examination of the epidermis from the grafts after 2-4 weeks revealed MHC class II(+) donor cells, which had acquired CD205 and CD207, thus qualifying them as LC. Finally, we present evidence that endogenous LC persist in skin grafts for the observation period of 45 days. These studies show that hematopoietic precursors seed the skin during embryonic life and can give rise to LC.

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