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Curr Mol Med. 2001 Sep;1(4):457-68.

Continuing education of the immune system--dendritic cells, immune regulation and tolerance.

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Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford, England.


T cells, as they develop in the thymus come to express antigen receptors. The specificity of these receptors cannot be predicted and must include many with potential anti-self reactivity. Those that encounter self-antigens, in association with self-MHC (major histocompatibility complex), with high affinity are inactivated and do not leave the thymus. Not all self-antigens however are expressed in the thymus and thus many potentially self-reactive T cells enter the periphery. It poses therefore a fundamental immunological question: how peripheral self-tolerance is maintained in health? Dendritic cells (DC) play a central role in the activation of T cells, especially naïve T cells. Their importance in initiating immune responses against pathogens has been well established. However, DC represent complex populations of cells. Recent advances in our knowledge including molecular understanding of DC/T cell interactions have begun to reveal another important dimension of DC functions in the periphery, being not only initiators but also regulators of the immune system. This review summarises recent findings on the roles of DC in the regulation of immune responses and the maintenance of peripheral tolerance, in an attempt to explain how break down of this may lead to immunopathologies and autoimmunity. The concept of a regulatory DC and its possible role in the generation of T regulatory cells in health and in diseases are also discussed. Based on these, the need for a "continuing education" of the immune system throughout one's life, in which DC are again the "tutors", is postulated.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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