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Immunol Res. 2005;31(3):189-206.

Immunologic roles of hyaluronan.

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Department of Dermatology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, 5323 Harry Hines Boulevard, Dallas, TX 75390-9069, USA.


Hyaluronan (HA), a large glycosaminoglycan composed of D-N-acetylglucosamine and D-glucuronic acid, is expressed in virtually all tissues and has long been considered to serve as a structural component or filling material in the tissue interstitium (Filler Theory). This idea was revised with the discovery of HA-binding proteins that introduced the concept that HA may also serve as an adhesive substrate for cellular trafficking (Adhesion Theory). Most recently, it has been shown that HA fragments can deliver maturational signals to dendritic cells (DCs) and high molecular weight HA polymers can deliver costimulatory signals to T-cells (Signaling Theory). Thus, HA may represent an important component of the immune system. Recently, we have evaluated the impact of HA on Langerhans cell (LC) maturation and migration using a novel peptide inhibitor of HA function, termed Pep-1 (GAHWQFNALTVR). As skin-specific members of the DC family, LCs are crucial for the initiation of cutaneous immune responses. Local injections of Pep-1 prevented hapten-induced LC migration from the epidermis, providing the first experimental evidence that HA facilitates their emigration. Moreover, Pep-1 also significantly inhibited the hapten-induced maturation of LCs in vivo as assessed by cell morphology, costimulatory molecule expression, and their ability to induce proliferation of allogeneic T-cells. HA therefore has dual functionality to facilitate LC migration and maturation, the two critical events for the initiation of adaptive immune responses. Finally, we have observed that DC-dependent, antigen-specific T-cell proliferation and cytokine secretion is blocked by Pep-1. These results have revealed a previously unrecognized role for HA in antigen presentation. Thus, far from an inert structural biopolymer, HA represents a multifunctional carbohydrate mediator of immune processes.

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