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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2011 Jan;35(1):47-59. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2010.01321.x. Epub 2010 Oct 6.

Mechanisms by which chronic ethanol feeding limits the ability of dendritic cells to stimulate T-cell proliferation.

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Department of Pathology, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Iowa City, USA.



As initiators of immune responses, dendritic cells (DCs) are required for antigen (Ag)-specific activation of naïve T cells in the defense against infectious agents. The increased susceptibility to and severity of infection seen in chronic alcoholics could be because of impaired DCs initiation of naïve T-cell responses. Specifically, these DCs may not provide adequate Signals 1 (Ag presentation), 2 (costimulation), or 3 (cytokine production) to these T cells.


Using the Meadows-Cook murine model of chronic alcohol abuse, the ability of ethanol (EtOH)-exposed DCs to stimulate T-cell proliferation, acquire and process Ag, express costimulatory molecules, and produce inflammatory cytokines was assessed.


Normal naïve T cells primed by EtOH-exposed DCs showed decreased proliferation in vitro and in vivo, compared to water-fed control mice. These EtOH-exposed DCs, after activation by CpG or tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα), were less able to upregulate costimulatory molecules CD40, CD80, or CD86, and produced less IL-12 p40, TNFα, and IFNα than DCs from water-fed mice. TLR9 and TNF receptor expression were also reduced in/on EtOH-exposed DCs. No evidence of defective Ag acquisition or processing as a result of EtOH feeding was identified.


Inadequate proliferation of normal T cells following stimulation by EtOH-exposed DCs is likely a result of diminished Signal 2 and Signal 3. Lack of adequate inflammatory stimulation of EtOH-exposed DCs because of diminished receptors for inflammatory mediators appears to be at least partially responsible for their dysfunction. These findings provide a mechanism to explain increased morbidity and mortality from infectious diseases in alcoholics and suggest targets for therapeutic intervention.

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