Background: Cross-presentation by dendritic cells (DCs) is a crucial prerequisite for effective priming of cytotoxic T-cell responses against bacterial, viral and tumor antigens; however, this antigen presentation pathway remains poorly defined.
Methodology/principal findings: In order to develop a comprehensive understanding of this process, we tested the hypothesis that the internalization of MHC class I molecules (MHC-I) from the cell surface is directly involved in cross-presentation pathway and the loading of antigenic peptides. Here we provide the first examination of the internalization of MHC-I in DCs and we demonstrate that the cytoplasmic domain of MHC-I appears to act as an addressin domain to route MHC-I to both endosomal and lysosomal compartments of DCs, where it is demonstrated that loading of peptides derived from exogenously-derived proteins occurs. Furthermore, by chasing MHC-I from the cell surface of normal and transgenic DCs expressing mutant forms of MHC-I, we observe that a tyrosine-based endocytic trafficking motif is required for the constitutive internalization of MHC-I molecules from the cell surface into early endosomes and subsequently deep into lysosomal peptide-loading compartments. Finally, our data support the concept that multiple pathways of peptide loading of cross-presented antigens may exist depending on the chemical nature and size of the antigen requiring processing.
Conclusions/significance: We conclude that DCs have 'hijacked' and adapted a common vacuolar/endocytic intracellular trafficking pathway to facilitate MHC I access to the endosomal and lysosomal compartments where antigen processing and loading and antigen cross-presentation takes place.