Transport of immune complexes from the subcapsular sinus to lymph node follicles on the surface of nonphagocytic cells, including cells with dendritic morphology

J Immunol. 1983 Oct;131(4):1714-27.


The objective of the present study was to investigate the mechanism of antigen migration from the site of initial localization in the lymph node subcapsular sinus (SS) to regions of follicular retention in the cortex. The migration of horseradish peroxidase (HRP), used as a histochemically identifiable antigen, was followed by light and electron microscopy in C3H mouse popliteal lymph nodes obtained 1, 5, 15, and 30 min, and 5 and 24 hr after hindfoot pad injection of HRP. The observations showed that as early as 1 min after HRP injection, localization of antigen occurred at distinct sites in the SS and subjacent areas of the cortex on the afferent side. At these sites, between 1 min and 24 hr, the antigen formed light microscopically identifiable trails, which reached progressively deeper into the cortex with time toward individual follicular regions. By 24 hr this apparent migration of antigen was complete, and HRP was localized in follicles. This migration pattern did not occur on the efferent sides of lymph nodes, and it was dependent on the systemic presence of specific antibodies since it was observable only in passively immunized but not in nonimmune mice. Temporary retention of antigen by typical macrophages was also observed in the SS on the efferent side. This was minimal in nonimmune mice and was significantly enhanced in passively immunized mice. Electron microscopy indicated that the apparent migration of immune complexes was mediated by a group of cells observed in the migration path that had immune complexes sequestered on their surface or in plasma membrane infoldings. These antigen transporting cells (ATC) were relatively large nonphagocytic cells, with lobated or irregular euchromatic nuclei and cell processes of various complexity. ATC observed in or near the SS appeared to be less differentiated, were monocyte-like, and resembled non-Birbeck granule-containing Langerhans cell precursors or veiled cells. Others, located deeper in the cortex, appeared more differentiated, interdigitated with antigen-retaining dendritic cells, and shared morphologic characteristics with follicular dendritic cells (FDC). The results support the concepts that immune complexes are trapped in the SS and are transported by a group of non-phagocytic cells, other than lymphocytes, to follicular regions. The mechanism of transport may involve the migration of ATC with a concomitant maturation into FDC, or by a mechanism of ATC to FDC transport utilizing dendritic cell processes and membrane fluidity, or by a combination of the two mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigen-Antibody Complex / analysis
  • Antigen-Antibody Complex / physiology*
  • Antigens / analysis
  • Cell Communication
  • Cell Movement
  • Horseradish Peroxidase / metabolism
  • Immunity, Cellular
  • Langerhans Cells / enzymology
  • Langerhans Cells / immunology*
  • Langerhans Cells / ultrastructure
  • Lymph Nodes / cytology*
  • Lymph Nodes / immunology
  • Lymph Nodes / ultrastructure
  • Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Lymphocytes / ultrastructure
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Macrophages / physiology
  • Macrophages / ultrastructure
  • Mast Cells / immunology
  • Mast Cells / ultrastructure
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C3H


  • Antigen-Antibody Complex
  • Antigens
  • Horseradish Peroxidase