Dendritic cells (DCs) are specialized antigen presenting cells that are exquisitely adapted to sense pathogens and induce the development of adaptive immune responses. They form a complex network of phenotypically and functionally distinct subsets. Within this network, individual DC subsets display highly specific roles in local immunosurveillance, migration, and antigen presentation. This division of labor amongst DCs offers great potential to tune the immune response by harnessing subset-specific attributes of DCs in the clinical setting. Until recently, our understanding of DC subsets has been limited and paralleled by poor clinical translation and efficacy. We have now begun to unravel how different DC subsets develop within a complex multilayered system. These findings open up exciting possibilities for targeted manipulation of DC subsets. Furthermore, ground-breaking developments overcoming a major translational obstacle - identification of similar DC populations in mouse and man - now sets the stage for significant advances in the field. Here we explore the determinants that underpin cellular and transcriptional heterogeneity within the DC network, how these influence DC distribution and localization at steady-state, and the capacity of DCs to present antigens via direct or cross-presentation during pathogen infection.
Keywords: dendritic cells; differentiation; immunity; transcription factors.