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J Leukoc Biol. 2003 Aug;74(2):172-8.

Corneal immunity is mediated by heterogeneous population of antigen-presenting cells.

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Laboratory of Immunology, Schepens Eye Research Institute, and the Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary and the Department of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA.


Corneal antigen-presenting cells (APC), including dendritic cells (DC), were thought to reside exclusively in the peripheral cornea. Here, we present recent data from our group demonstrating that the central cornea is indeed endowed with a heterogeneous population of epithelial and stromal DC, which function as APC. Although the corneal periphery contains mature and immature resident bone marrow-derived CD11c(+) DC, the central cornea is endowed exclusively with immature and precursor DC, both in the epithelium and the stroma, wherein Langerhans cells and monocytic DC reside, respectively. During inflammation, a majority of resident DC undergo maturation by overexpressing major histocompatibility complex class II and B7 (CD80/CD86) costimulatory molecules. In addition to the DC, macrophages are present in the posterior corneal stroma. In transplantation, donor-derived DC are able to migrate to host cervical lymph nodes and activate host T cells via the direct pathway when allografts are placed in inflamed host beds. These data revise the tenet that the cornea is immune-privileged as a result of lack of resident lymphoreticular cells and suggest that the cornea is capable of diverse cellular mechanisms for antigen presentation.

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