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Cycling of human dendritic cell effector phenotypes in response to TNF-alpha: modification of the current 'maturation' paradigm and implications for in vivo immunoregulation.


Dendritic cells (DCs) are potent antigen presenting cells reported to undergo irreversible functional 'maturation' in response to inflammatory signals such as TNF-alpha. The current paradigm holds that this DC maturation event is required for full functional capacity and represents terminal differentiation of this cell type, culminating in apoptotic cell death. This provides a possible mechanism for avoiding dysregulated immunostimulatory activity, but imposes constraints on the capacity of DCs to influence subsequent immune responses and to participate in immunological memory. We report that the cell surface and functional effects induced by TNF-alpha are reversible and reinducible. These effects are accompanied by a concordant modulation of cytokine mRNA expression that includes the induction of proinflammatory factors (IL-15, IL-12, LT-alpha, LT-beta, TNF-alpha, RANTES) which is coincident with the down-regulation of counter-regulatory cytokines (IL-10, TGF-beta1, TGF-beta2, IL-1 RA, MCP-1). The resultant net effect is a dendritic cell activation state characterized by a transient proinflammatory posture. These results demonstrate that 1) human DCs do not undergo terminal 'maturation' in response to TNF-alpha, 2) DC phenotypes are more pleiotropic than previously thought, and 3) DCs are potential immunoregulatory effector cells with implications for control of immune responses in both in vivo and in vitro systems.

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