Dendritic cells (DCs) are key players in the immune system. Much of their biology has been elucidated via culture systems in which hematopoietic precursors differentiate into DCs under the aegis of cytokines. A widely used protocol involves the culture of murine bone marrow (BM) cells with granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) to generate BM-derived DCs (BMDCs). BMDCs express CD11c and MHC class II (MHCII) molecules and share with DCs isolated from tissues the ability to present exogenous antigens to T cells and to respond to microbial stimuli by undergoing maturation. We demonstrate that CD11c(+)MHCII(+) BMDCs are in fact a heterogeneous group of cells that comprises conventional DCs and monocyte-derived macrophages. DCs and macrophages in GM-CSF cultures both undergo maturation upon stimulation with lipopolysaccharide but respond differentially to the stimulus and remain separable entities. These results have important implications for the interpretation of a vast array of data obtained with DC culture systems.
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