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J Immunol. 2001 Aug 1;167(3):1413-22.

Activating immunity in the liver. I. Liver dendritic cells (but not hepatocytes) are potent activators of IFN-gamma release by liver NKT cells.

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Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, University of Ulm, Heimholtzstrasse 8/1, D-89081 Ulm, Germany.


A prominent subset of the hepatic innate immune system is alpha-galactosylceramide (alphaGalCer)-reactive, (CD4(+) and CD4(-)CD8(-)) CD1d-restricted NKT cells. We investigated in C57BL/6 (B6) mice which hepatic cell type stimulates hepatic NKT cell activation. Surface expression of CD1d but not CD40, CD80, or CD86 costimulator molecules was detected in hepatocytes. Pulsed in vitro or in vivo with alphaGalCer, hepatocytes triggered IL-4 release by liver NKT cells but required exogenous IL-12 to trigger IFN-gamma release by NKT cells. Liver dendritic cells (DC) isolated from nontreated mice showed low surface expression of MHC, CD1d, and CD40, CD80, or CD86 costimulator molecules that were strikingly up-regulated after alphaGalCer injection. Although liver CD11c(+) DC displayed lower CD1d surface expression than hepatocytes, they were potent stimulators of IFN-gamma and IL-4 release by liver NKT when pulsed with alphaGalCer in vitro or in vivo. Liver DC are thus potent stimulators of proinflammatory cytokine release by NKT cells, are activated themselves in the process of NKT cell activation, and express an activated phenotype after the NKT cell population is eliminated following alphaGalCer stimulation.

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