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J Invest Dermatol. 2012 Nov;132(11):2581-92. doi: 10.1038/jid.2012.187. Epub 2012 Jun 21.

Phenotypic characterization of leukocytes in prenatal human dermis.

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  • 1Division of Immunology, Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Department of Dermatology, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.


The adult human skin harbors a variety of leukocytes providing immune surveillance and host defense, but knowledge about their ontogeny is scarce. In this study we investigated the number and phenotype of leukocytes in prenatal human skin (dermal dendritic cells (DDCs), macrophages, T cells (including FoxP3(+) regulatory T cells), and mast cells) to unravel their derivation and to get a clue as to their putative function in utero. By flow cytometry and immunofluorescence, we found a distinction between CD206(+)CD1c(+)CD11c(+) DDCs and CD206(+)CD209(+)CD1c(-) skin macrophages by 9 weeks estimated gestational age (EGA). T cells appear at the end of the first trimester, expressing CD3 intracytoplasmatically. During midgestation, CD3(+)FoxP3(-) and CD3(+)FoxP3(+) cells can exclusively be found in the dermis. Similarly, other leukocytes such as CD117(+) (c-kit) mast cells were not identified before 12-14 weeks EGA and only slowly acquire a mature phenotype during gestation. Our data show at which time point during gestation antigen-presenting cells, T cells, and mast cells populate the human dermis and provide a step forward to a better understanding of the development of the human skin immune system.

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