The skin immune atlas: three-dimensional analysis of cutaneous leukocyte subsets by multiphoton microscopy

J Invest Dermatol. 2015 Jan;135(1):84-93. doi: 10.1038/jid.2014.289. Epub 2014 Aug 9.


Site-specific differences in skin response to pathogens and in the course of cutaneous inflammatory diseases are well appreciated. The composition and localization of cutaneous leukocytes has been studied extensively using histology and flow cytometry. However, the precise three-dimensional (3D) distribution of distinct immune cell subsets within skin at different body sites requires visualization of intact living skin. We used intravital multiphoton microscopy in transgenic reporter mice in combination with quantitative flow cytometry to generate a 3D immune cell atlas of mouse skin. The 3D location of innate and adaptive immune cells and site-specific differences in the densities of macrophages, T cells, and mast cells at four defined sites (ear, back, footpad, and tail) is presented. The combinatorial approach further demonstrates an as yet unreported age-dependent expansion of dermal gamma-delta T cells. Localization of dermal immune cells relative to anatomical structures was also determined. Although dendritic cells were dispersed homogeneously within the dermis, mast cells preferentially localized to the perivascular space. Finally, we show the functional relevance of site-specific mast cell disparities using the passive cutaneous anaphylaxis model. These approaches are applicable to assessing immune cell variations and potential functional consequences in the setting of infection, as well as the pathogenesis of inflammatory skin conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Dendritic Cells / pathology
  • Dermatitis / pathology*
  • Dermis / blood supply
  • Dermis / pathology
  • Dermoscopy / methods*
  • Ear, External
  • Epidermis / pathology
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods*
  • Leukocytes / pathology*
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / pathology
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Male
  • Mast Cells / pathology
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence, Multiphoton / methods*
  • Skin / blood supply
  • Skin / pathology*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Luminescent Proteins
  • yellow fluorescent protein, Bacteria
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins