Langerhans Cells

Andrew Blauvelt, Dermatology Branch, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland, USA

Langerhans cells are members of the dendritic cell family and are the major antigen-presenting cells of epidermis. Derived from bone marrow, Langerhans cells or their precursors migrate through blood to the suprabasal area of epidermis, where they represent 2-3% of all epidermal cells. Typical markers for these cells include the cell surface expression of CDla, a major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I-like molecule, and the pathognomonic Birbeck granule (Figure 1), a tennis racquet-shaped structure observed on electron microscopy. Functionally, Langerhans cells process epicutaneous protein antigens, migrate from epidermis, and present antigenic peptides to T cells in the context of MHC class I and II molecules, either within skin or within the paracortex region of regional lymph nodes. The study of Langerhans cell function during the sensitization and elicitation phases of contact hypersensitivity has proven to be invaluable as a paradigm for the study of immune responses in general, and for the study of cell-mediated delayed-type hypersensitivity reactions in particular. In addition, the biological effects on Langerhans cell function induced by exogenous agents, such as ultraviolet radiation and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), have been intensely studied.

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