Langerhans cells (LC) constitute a morphologically well-characterized minor subpopulation of the mammalian epidermis whose functional role is still a matter of conjecture. The hypothesis that LC represent an epidermal equivalent to cells of the monocyte-macrophage-histiocyte series is supported by the recent observations that in humans and guinea pigs LC are the only epidermal cells that express Fc-IgG receptors, C3 receptors, and Ia antigens. Using inbred strain 2 and strain 13 guinea pigs, we investigated in this study whether LC can mediate the same immunologic functions as Ia-bearing macrophages. LC-enriched and LC-depleted epidermal cells were prepared by separation of Fc-IgG rosetting epidermal cells on density gradients. When both populations were tested for the biosynthesis of alloantigens by immunoprecipitation techniques, Ia antigen synthesis was restricted to the LC-enriched fraction. Functional studies demonstrated that antigen-pulsed LC-enriched epidermal cells induce a proliferative response in immune T cells that is comparable in magnitude to that seen with macrophages. Moreover, effective presentation of immunologically relevant antigen requires syngeneity between LC-enriched epidermal cells and responder lymphocytes. In the mixed leukocyte reaction (MLR), LC-enriched epidermal cells were as effective stimulators as macrophages. LC-depleted epidermal cells, by contrast, induced little or no stimulation in both assay systems. Both the antigen-presenting and the MLR-stimulatory capacities of LC-enriched epidermal cells could be abrogated by pretreatment with anti-Ia sera and complement. The presence in the epidermis of Ia-bearing LC, capable of mediating the immunologic functions of Ia-bearing macrophages, has important clinical implications with regard to the role of LC as sensitizing cells in both contact hypersensitivity and skin graft rejection.

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