Cross-presentation: underlying mechanisms and role in immune surveillance

Immunol Rev. 2005 Oct;207:166-83. doi: 10.1111/j.0105-2896.2005.00301.x.


It was originally thought that a cell's major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I molecules presented peptides derived exclusively from proteins synthesized by the cell itself. However, in some circumstances, antigens from the extracellular environment can be presented on MHC class I molecules and stimulate CD8(+) T-cell immunity, a process termed cross-presentation. Cross-presentation was originally discovered as an obscure phenomenon in transplantation immunity. However, it is now clear that it is a major mechanism by which the immune system monitors tissues and phagocytes for the presence of foreign antigen. Cross-presentation is the only pathway by which the immune system can detect and respond to viral infections or mutations that exclusively occur in parenchymal cells rather than in bone marrow-derived antigen-presenting cells (APCs). Professional APCs, such as dendritic cells, are the principal cells endowed with the capacity to cross-present antigens. In this process, the APCs acquire proteins from other tissue cells through endocytic mechanisms, especially phagocytosis or macropinocytosis. The internalized antigen can then be processed through at least two different mechanisms. In one pathway, the antigen is transferred from the phagosome into the cytosol, where it is hydrolyzed by proteasomes into oligopeptides that are then transported by the transporter associated with antigen processing to MHC class I molecules in the endoplasmic reticulum or phagosomes. In a second pathway, the antigen is cleaved into peptides by endosomal proteases, particularly cathepsin S, and bound by class I molecules probably in the endocytic compartment itself. Depending on the nature of the antigen, one or both of these pathways can contribute to cross-presentation in vivo. The outcome of cross-presentation can be either tolerance or immunity. Which of these outcomes occurs is thought to depend on whether antigens are acquired by themselves alone, leading to tolerance, or with immunostimulatory signals, leading to immunity. One source of such signals is from dying cells that release immunostimulatory 'danger' signals that promote the generation of immunity to their cellular antigens. In addition to the critical role of cross-presentation in normal immune physiology, this pathway has considerable potential for being exploited for developing subunit vaccines that elicit both CD4(+) and CD8(+) T-cell immunity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigen Presentation / immunology*
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / immunology
  • Cross-Priming / immunology*
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Surveillance*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology


  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I