Skin Contribution To Immunity

Martien L Kapsenberg and Jan D Bos, Laboratory of Cell Biology and Histology, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Copyright © 1998 Elsevier Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The skin is the largest organ of the human body. Amongst other functions, it serves as a general defense system. Normal skin contains two functionally and anatomically different layers: the epidermis, which forms a physical barrier and primarily contains keratinocytes, and the dermis, which consists of connective tissue and contributes to the flexibility of the skin. During evolution the immune system has evolved as a complementary line of defense that efficiently copes not only with exogenous organisms that have crossed the corneal layer of the epidermis but also with endogenous hazardous elements such as newly formed malignant cells. Malignant cells are generated, with a high incidence in skin, presumably due to ultraviolet (UV) light exposure.

Various cell types are responsible for the immune reactivity in skin. They are involved in the homing of immune cells (endothelial cells, keratinocytes), in natural immunity (macrophages, neutrophils, natural killer cells) or in acquired immunity (antigen-presenting cells, T lymphocytes, mast cells). This complexity of cells, their products and their interactions in skin has been denominated the 'skin immune system'.

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