Scientists discover origin of Langerhans cells

June 13, 2012

Scientists at Singapore Immunology Network say they have determined the origin of a group of immune cells in the skin that act as the first line of defense against harmful germs and skin infections.

Singapore - Scientists at Singapore Immunology Network say they have determined the origin of a group of immune cells in the skin that act as the first line of defense against harmful germs and skin infections.

Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) scientists discovered that these sentry cells of the skin, the Langerhans cells (LCs), originate from two distinct embryonic sites - the early yolk sac and the fetal liver, ScienceDaily reports. LCs are dendritic cells (DCs) found in the epidermis. DCs are a critical component of the immune system because they are the only cells able to “alert” other responding immune cells to initiate a protective response against harmful invaders. Identifying the source of these specialized cells could lead to novel treatments for inflammatory skin disorders and autoimmune diseases.

In their study, a research team led by SIgN principal investigator Florent Ginhoux, Ph.D., showed that adult LCs originate from two distinct embryonic lineages in two succeeding waves. The first wave of precursor cells from the yolk sac “seed” the skin before the onset of the fetal liver. The team found that at the later stage of development, the yolk-sac precursors are largely replaced by a type of white blood cells from the fetal liver.

ScienceDaily quotes Dr. Ginhoux as saying, “Whether this unique dual origin of Langerhans cells influences their ability to maintain skin integrity or dictate their specialized immune functions in response to microbes and vaccines needs to be examined. But having identified their origin surely opens new possibilities of using them as novel vaccination strategies or as therapeutic tool for treating inflammatory skin diseases like psoriasis.”

The study was published in the June issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

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