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J Exp Med. 2001 Jan 1;193(1):51-60.

Specific migratory dendritic cells rapidly transport antigen from the airways to the thoracic lymph nodes.

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Department of Respiratory Diseases, Ghent University Hospital, Ghent B-9000, Belgium.


Antigen transport from the airway mucosa to the thoracic lymph nodes (TLNs) was studied in vivo by intratracheal instillation of fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC)-conjugated macromolecules. After instillation, FITC(+) cells with stellate morphology were found deep in the TLN T cell area. Using flow cytometry, an FITC signal was exclusively detected in CD11c(med-hi)/major histocompatibility complex class II (MHCII)(hi) cells, representing migratory airway-derived lymph node dendritic cells (AW-LNDCs). No FITC signal accumulated in lymphocytes and in a CD11c(hi)MHCII(med) DC group containing a CD8 alpha(hi) subset (non-airway-derived [NAW]-LNDCs). Sorted AW-LNDCs showed long MHCII(bright) cytoplasmic processes and intracytoplasmatic FITC(+) granules. The fraction of FITC(+) AW-LNDCs peaked after 24 h and had reached baseline by day 7. AW-LNDCs were depleted by 7 d of ganciclovir treatment in thymidine kinase transgenic mice, resulting in a strong reduction of FITC-macromolecule transport into the TLNs. Compared with intrapulmonary DCs, AW-LNDCs had a mature phenotype and upregulated levels of MHCII, B7-2, CD40, and intracellular adhesion molecule (ICAM)-1. In addition, sorted AW-LNDCs from FITC-ovalbumin (OVA)-instilled animals strongly presented OVA to OVA-TCR transgenic T cells. These results validate the unique sentinel role of airway DCs, picking up antigen in the airways and delivering it in an immunogenic form to the T cells in the TLNs.

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