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J Invest Dermatol. 2001 Feb;116(2):313-8.

A strikingly constant ratio exists between Langerhans cells and other epidermal cells in human skin. A stereologic study using the optical disector method and the confocal laser scanning microscope.

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Department of Dermatology, University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany.


Langerhans cells play an important part in the immune surveillance of the human epidermis. Therefore, a certain distribution and numerical relationship to other epidermal cells can be expected. To quantify epidermal Langerhans cells population extensive studies have been performed using two-dimensional quantification methods on vertical sections or epidermal sheet preparations. Whereas methods using vertical sections were complicated considerably by the sampling procedure, the dendritic shape, and the suprabasal, nonrandom distribution of Langerhans cells, epidermal sheet preparations have their limitations regarding the numerical relationship of Langerhans cells to total epidermal cells and the epidermal morphology as such. In order to improve the validity of data the three-dimensional dissector method combined with confocal laser scanning microscopy has been applied to quantify the number of Langerhans cells and other epidermal cell nuclei per volume unit in cryosections of 24 punch biopsies of normal breast skin of eight women. Furthermore, the ratio of Langerhans cells to other epidermal cells, their number per biopsy, and per skin surface area were calculated. To minimize the bias by shrinkage the reference volume was estimated using Cavalieri's principle. A constant ratio of one Langerhans cells to 53 other epidermal cells was identified in breast skin (interindividual correlation coefficient: 0.952, p < 0.0001). Thus, Langerhans cells represent 1.86% of all epidermal cells; however, a wide interindividual range was found for the number of Langerhans cells per mm2 (912-1806; mean +/- SD 1394 +/- 321) and other epidermal cells per mm2 (47,315-104,588; mean +/- SD 73,952 +/- 19,426). This explains the conflicting results achieved by conventional morphometric assessments relating cell numbers to skin surface area, ignoring the varying thickness of the epidermis. The surprisingly constant relationship of Langerhans cells to other epidermal cells stresses the hypothesis of an epidermal Langerhans cells unit where one Langerhans cells seems to be responsible for the immune surveillance of 53 epidermal cells.

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