Deciphering the message broadcast by tumor-infiltrating dendritic cells

Am J Pathol. 2012 Sep;181(3):733-42. doi: 10.1016/j.ajpath.2012.05.012. Epub 2012 Jul 13.


Human dendritic cells (DCs) infiltrate solid tumors, but this infiltration occurs in favorable and unfavorable disease prognoses. The statistical inference is that tumor-infiltrating DCs (TIDCs) play no conclusive role in predicting disease progression. This is remarkable because DCs are highly specialized antigen-presenting cells linking innate and adaptive immunity. DCs either boost the immune system (enhancing immunity) or dampen it (leading to tolerance). This dual effect explains the dual outcomes of cancer progression. The reverse functional characteristics of DCs depend on their maturation status. This review elaborates on the markers used to detect DCs in tumors. In many cases, the identification of DCs in human cancers relies on staining for S-100 and CD1a. These two markers are mainly expressed by Langerhans cells, which are one of several functionally different DC subsets. The activation status of DCs is based on the expression of CD83, DC-SIGN, and DC-LAMP, which are nonspecific markers of DC maturation. The detection of TIDCs has not kept pace with the increased knowledge about the identification of DC subsets and their maturation status. Therefore, it is difficult to draw a conclusion about the performance of DCs in tumors. We suggest a novel selection of markers to distinguish human DC subsets and maturation states. The use of these biomarkers will be of pivotal importance to scrutinize the prognostic significance of TIDCs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity / immunology
  • Immunotherapy
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Prognosis


  • Biomarkers