Dendritic cells (I): Biological functions

J R Coll Surg Edinb. 2001 Feb;46(1):9-19.


Dendritic cells (DCs) are potent antigen presenting cells (APCs) that possess the ability to stimulate naïve T cells. They comprise a system of leukocytes widely distributed in all tissues, especially in those that provide an environmental interface. DCs posses a heterogeneous haemopoietic lineage, in that subsets from different tissues have been shown to posses a differential morphology, phenotype and function. The ability to stimulate naïve T cell proliferation appears to be shared between these various DC subsets. It has been suggested that the so-called myeloid and lymphoid-derived subsets of DCs perform specific stimulatory or tolerogenic function, respectively. DCs are derived from bone marrow progenitors and circulate in the blood as immature precursors prior to migration into peripheral tissues. Within different tissues, DCs differentiate and become active in the taking up and processing of antigens (Ags), and their subsequent presentation on the cell surface linked to major histocompatibility (MHC) molecules. Upon appropriate stimulation, DCs undergo further maturation and migrate to secondary lymphoid tissues where they present Ag to T cells and induce an immune response. DCs are receiving increasing scientific and clinical interest due to their key role in anti-cancer host responses and potential use as biological adjuvants in tumour vaccines, as well as their involvement in the immunobiology of tolerance and autoimmunity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Movement
  • Dendritic Cells / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Tissue Distribution