Plasmacytoid dendritic cells: a new cutaneous dendritic cell subset with distinct role in inflammatory skin diseases

J Invest Dermatol. 2002 Nov;119(5):1096-102. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1747.2002.19515.x.


Epidermal dendritic cells found in inflamed skin include Langerhans cells and the recently identified population of inflammatory dendritic epidermal cells. Another subset of dendritic cells in humans is the plasmacytoid dendritic cell in peripheral blood, which is characterized by the production of large amounts of type I interferon (interferon-alpha and interferon-beta) upon viral infection. We hypothesized that plasmacytoid dendritic cells might be involved in anti-viral defense mechanisms of the skin. Here we investigated plasmacytoid dendritic cells, inflammatory dendritic epidermal cells, and Langerhans cells in epidermal single cell suspensions of normal looking skin from healthy volunteers and of lesional skin from patients with different inflammatory skin diseases. Langerhans cells were found in normal and in inflamed skin samples. In normal skin, plasmacytoid dendritic cells and inflammatory dendritic epidermal cells were low or absent. Lesional skin samples from patients with psoriasis vulgaris and contact dermatitis contained relatively high numbers of both inflammatory dendritic epidermal cells and plasmacytoid dendritic cells. In contrast, many inflammatory dendritic epidermal cells but only very few plasmacytoid dendritic cells could be detected in atopic dermatitis lesions. Lupus erythematosus was characterized by high numbers of plasmacytoid dendritic cells but low numbers of inflammatory dendritic epidermal cells. These results demonstrate that in addition to resident Langerhans cells, plasmacytoid dendritic cells and inflammatory dendritic epidermal cells are selectively recruited to the skin lesions depending on the type of skin disease. The lack of plasmacytoid dendritic cells in atopic dermatitis may predispose atopic dermatitis patients to viral infections such as eczema herpeticum, a secondary infection of atopic dermatitis lesions with herpes simplex virus. The composition of dendritic cell subsets may help to clarify the etiology of inflammatory skin diseases and forms the basis for therapeutic intervention with selective microbial molecules such as immunostimulatory CpG oligonucleotides.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Lineage / immunology
  • Dendritic Cells / chemistry
  • Dendritic Cells / classification*
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology*
  • Flow Cytometry / methods
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-3 Receptor alpha Subunit
  • Langerhans Cells / cytology
  • Langerhans Cells / immunology
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens / analysis
  • Receptors, Interleukin-3 / analysis
  • Skin / cytology
  • Skin / immunology
  • Skin Diseases / immunology*
  • Skin Diseases / pathology*


  • IL3RA protein, human
  • Interleukin-3 Receptor alpha Subunit
  • Receptors, Interleukin-3
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens