Dendritic Cell Interactions and Cytokine Production

M. Foti, F. Granucci, P. Ricciardi-Castagnoli

4.1 Dendritic Cells Recognize Perturbations of the Immune System . . 63

4.2 Host-Pathogen Gene Profiling 66

4.3 Dendritic Cells and Pathogen Interaction 68

4.4 Dendritic Cells as Sensors of Infection 70

4.5 Dendritic Cell Transcriptional Profile Induced by Pathogens Include Cytokines and Chemokines 71

4.6 Activation of NK Cells by Dendritic Cells Is Mediated by Dendritic Cell-Derived IL-2 75

References 76

Abstract. The dendritic cell lineage comprises cells at various stages of functional maturation that are able to induce and regulate the immune response against antigens and thus function as initiators of protective immunity. The signals that determine the given dendritic cell functions depend mostly on the local microenvironment and on the interaction between dendritic cells and microorganisms. These interactions are complex and very different from one pathogen to another; nevertheless, both shared and unique responses have been observed using global genomic analyses. In this review, we have focused on the study of host-pathogen interactions using a genome-wide transcriptional approach with a focus on cytokine family members.

Immunity is the result of coevolution of microorganisms and the immune system; microorganisms have learned how to manipulate the immune response to their own advantage. Therefore, host-parasite interaction studies should reveal the molecular mechanisms that control the initiation, persistence, and polarization of immune responses.

In host-parasite interactions, dendritic cells (DCs) play a central role since they are located in close contact with the mucosal surfaces where they can sample incoming pathogens. If the amount of pathogen exceeds a certain threshold level for an extended period of time, DCs become activated and acquire a migratory capacity; during this "maturation" process, DCs undergo an extensive gene transcription reprogramming that involves the differential expression of up to 1,000 genes with the sequential acquisition of immune regulatory activities.

The immune response is extraordinarily complex, and it involves dynamic interaction of a wide array of tissues, cells and molecules. The diversity of innate immune mechanisms is in large part conserved in multicellular organisms (Mushegian and Medzhitov 2001). Some basic principles of microbial recognition and response are emerging, and recently, the application of computational genomics has played an important role in extending such observations from model organisms, such as Drosophila, to higher vertebrates, including humans. The analysis of gene expression in tissues, cells, and biological systems has evolved in the last decade from the analysis of a selected set of genes to an efficient high throughput whole-genome screening approach of potentially all genes expressed in a tissue or cell sample. Development of methodologies such as microarray technology allows an open-ended survey to identify comprehensively the fraction of genes that are differentially expressed between samples and define the samples' unique biology (Schena et al. 1995; Duggan et al. 1999; Lipshultz et al. 1999). This discovery-based research provides the opportunity to characterize either new genes with unknown function or genes not previously known to be involved in a biological process.

4.1 Dendritic Cells Recognize Perturbations of the Immune System

Dendritic cells are cells of the innate immunity characterized by broad functional properties (Fig. 1). These cells are divided into myeloid and plasmacytoid DC subsets, but the definition of dendritic cell subset phenotypes and the attribution of specific functions to defined DC stages has been a very difficult task; the definition of DC functional stages as mature versus immature or semi-mature DCs or activated versus steady-state DCs has raised a real language issue. In fact, DCs are characterized by a very high functional plasticity and can adapt their responses upon antigen encounter; they are also able to segregate in time different functions, which will dictate the outcome of the immune response.

DCs are located in nonlymphoid tissues, close to the mucosal surfaces, where they sample the environment to sense the infectious agents. For this task, DCs use a broad innate receptor repertoire and their phago-cytic activity. These cells are named myeloid immature DCs and they are mostly resident in those tissues where they have originally seeded. Cells that have been conditioned by the microbial encounter migrate to

DCs regulate both innate and adaptive immunity by:

> Sampling the environment

> Activating inflammatory responses

> Activating NK cells

> Presenting self-and non self-antigens ^ Activating appropriate T cell responses

> Regulating immune responses

Fig. 1. DCs regulate both innate and adaptive immunity the lymph nodes (LNs), where antigen is presented to specific T cells and where initiation of acquired immunity takes place. Thus, mature migratory DCs derive from the immature DCs, and are characterized by a limited degree of plasticity, a limited life span, and by the activation of an irreversible differentiation program ending with apoptotic cell death (Fig. 2).

The functional properties of immature resident DCs are characterized by the ability to sense the environment and to sample microbes at the mucosal sites. Indeed, DCs are particularly abundant in the respiratory tract and in the lungs as well as in the gut where, in addition to the Peyer's patches, they can be found in the lamina propria of the intestinal villi. We have shown that in order to sample the gut lumen and sense the intestinal flora, DCs are able to extend cytoplasmic protrusions in the lumen by opening the tight junctions of the epithelial cells and to preserve the integrity of the epithelial barrier by expressing, in a regulated way, tight

Fig. 2. DCs regulate immune responses by bridging innate and acquired immunity

junction proteins, such as the occludin (Rescigno et al. 2001). In the skin, the DCs, named Langerhans cells, form a tight network of cells continuously monitoring this tissue for invading parasites (Geissmann et al. 2002). Finally, in the liver and the spleen where blood-derived antigens are continuously brought and sampled, resident DCs are also particularly abundant.

To exert this sampling and sensing functional activities, DCs have a broad innate receptor repertoire for the recognition of infectious non-self antigens (Janeway and Medzhitov 2002). Indeed, in the mouse this receptor repertoire consists in the expression of the Toll-like receptor (TLR) family members that bind a variety of microbial ligands (Takeda et al. 2003). The signaling through these receptors is either mediated via the MyD88 adaptor molecule or via an independent pathway involving the TRIF molecule and the IRF-3 transcription factor (Beutler 2004). As a result of microbial activation through TLRs, the NFkB family members are activated and translocated to the nucleus (Hofer et al. 2001), inducing the transcription of many NFkB-dependent genes, mostly immune and inflammatory genes such as cytokines and chemokines. In addition, the microbial activation may also lead to the transcription of the interferon inducible genes via IRF-3 (Trottein et al. 2004). DCs can also display surface molecules such as the MARCO receptor that we have shown to be involved in a profound re-modeling of the actin cy-toskeleton (Granucci et al. 2003b). Other receptors expressed by DCs are DC-SIGN and C-type lectin receptors capable of binding a variety of microorganisms, including viruses such as HIV and pathogenic bacteria such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Van Kooyk and Geijtenbeek 2003; Tailleux et al. 2003). Finally, resident DCs express the receptors for opsonized microbes such as FcR and CR, which have a key role in the phagocytosis process.

The study of host-pathogen interactions is instrumental for the control of infectious diseases. Host eukaryotes are constantly exposed to attacks by microbes seeking to colonize and propagate in host cells. To counteract them, host cells utilize a whole battery of defense systems to combat microbes. However, in turn, successful microbes evolved sophisticated systems to evade host defense. As such, interactions between hosts and pathogens are perceived as evolutionary arms races between genes of the respective organisms (Bergelson et al. 2001; Kahn et al. 2002; Woolhouse et al. 2002). Any interaction between a host and its pathogen involves alterations in cell signaling cascades in both partners. These alterations may be mediated by transcriptional or post-translational changes. The challenge of the postgenomic era is how to select target genes to be studied in detail from the thousands of genes encoded in the genome.

4.2 Host-Pathogen Gene Profiling

The interaction between a host and microbial pathogens are diverse and regulated. The molecular mechanisms of microbial pathogenesis show common themes that involve families of structurally and functionally related proteins such as adherence factors, secretion systems, toxins, and regulators of microbial pathogens. The interaction between pathogen and host uncovers unique mechanisms and molecules. Microarray expression analysis of pathogen infected cells and tissues can identify, simultaneously and in the same sample, host and pathogen genes that are regulated during the infectious process.

A major challenge to innate immune cells is the discrimination of foreign pathogens from self. As originally described by Janeway (Janeway 1989; Jandeway and Medzhitov 1998), innate immune cells such as DCs possess germline-encoded pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) that recognize and are triggered by evolutionary conserved molecules essential to pathogen function but absent in the host. These pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) are widespread and include cell wall components such as mannans in the yeast cell wall, lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in Gram-negative bacteria, lipoproteins, pep-tidoglycans, and DNA containing unmethylated CpG motifs. There are at least two distinct classes of PRRs: those that mediate acute phagocytosis such as scavenger receptors and the mannose receptor and those that cause immediate cell activation such as TLRs. Upon cellular pathogen uptake, members of the TLR family become recruited to early phagosomes to screen their contents for ligands from foreign pathogens and subsequently to trigger cell activation upon ligand recognition (Underhill et al. 1999). This apparent "division of labor" (in-ternalization versus cell activation) between scavenger receptors and

TLRs bears a caveat, given that cross-linking of the scavenger receptor CD36 profoundly modulates LPS-driven DC maturation (Urban et al. 2001).

Recent studies have shown a stereotyped range of host immune responses after infection with phylogenetically diverse organisms. Both bacterial and mammalian (mouse, human) genome sequences can be used in microarray technology to define the expression profile of pathogens and the host cells. The global transcription effects on host cells of the innate immunity by various bacterial pathogens, including Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Bordetella pertussis have been analyzed by using microarray technology (Rappuoli 2000). The infection of macrophages with Salmonella typhimurium identified novel genes whose level of expression are altered (Rosenberger etal. 2000). Similarly, L. monocytogenes-infected human promyelocytic THP1 cells identified 74 up-regulated RNAs and 23 down-regulated host RNAs (Cohen et al; 2000).

Many of the up-regulated genes encode proinflammatory cytokines (e.g., IL-8, IL-6), and many of the down-regulated genes encode tran-scriptional factors and cellular adhesion molecules. Understanding the molecular basis of the host response to bacterial infections is critical for preventing disease and tissue damage resulting from the host response. Furthermore, an understanding of host transcriptional changes induced by the microbes can be used to identify specific protein targets for drug development. PBMC transcriptomes have been studied by using cDNA microarrays after in-vitro stimulation with killed Bordetella pertussis, Staphylococcus aureus, and Escherichia coli (Boldrick et al. 2002). This study shows a core of 205 commonly expressed genes. These genes included those with both systemic and local effects. Highly represented were genes encoding intercellular immunoregulatory and signaling molecules such as cytokines and chemokines. These genes are regulated by NFkB, which orchestrates both innate and adaptive immune responses. Gram-negative bacteria induced stronger expression than Gram-positive bacteria. Moreover, the study describes 96 genes that were commonly repressed after a delay of about 2 h: a subset of monocyte-attracting chemokines, genes involved in cell-cell adhesion, diapedesis, and leucocyte extravasation, and those involved in recognizing bacteria and antigen presentation.

Therefore, it is possible to distinguish between different species and even individual strains of B. pertussis and S. aureus. The same group also showed that different expression responses to the same strain of B. pertussis depended on whether it was live or killed and, if live, whether it carried a toxin gene (Manger and Relman 2000). Also the host response to extracellular and intracellular parasites can be assessed by microarrays (Chaussabel et al. 2003; Blader et al. 2002; de Avalos et al. 2002). The gene expression program in response to Trypanosoma cruzi infection showed that while 106 genes were expressed at 24 h, none were induced more than twofold by 2 or 6 h. This was in contrast with a previous study investigating the host response to another intracellular pathogen, Toxoplasma gondii, where 63 known genes were up-regulated by2h after infection (Blader et al. 2001). The authors postulated that the time lag may be due to a parasite-dependent event that is required before the host cell "sees" and responds to the invasion with gene transcription, thus showing the use of microarrays in generating novel biological hypotheses.

Microarray technology can provide insights into the interaction between the pathogen and host by revealing global host expression responses to a range of pathogenic stimuli. Pathogens may manipulate host-cell gene expression, for example by causing upregulation of cellular support for pathogen replication and downregulation of MHC expression to allow pathogens to evade the immune system (de la Fuente et al. 2002; Shaheduzzaman et al. 2002). In conclusion, the amount of data generated by microarray experiments is enormous. Such quantities of data require statistical expertise and software to decipher patterns from these new expression repertoires, now stored in many different databases.

4.3 Dendritic Cells and Pathogen Interaction

When higher organisms are exposed to pathogenic microorganisms, innate immune responses occur immediately, both in terms of cell activation and inflammation. The initial response is characterized by uptake (that is, phagocytosis or endocytosis) and subsequent destruction or degradation of pathogens. At the initial stage of primary infection, DCs constitute an integral part of the innate immune system, supported by the activity of bone-marrow-derived nonspecific immune cells and various resident tissue cells. DCs and macrophages are acutely activated, and during this process they upregulate costimulatory cell surface molecules and major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I and II molecules; they produce pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor-a (TNF-a) and interleukins (IL1-P and effector cytokines, such as IL-12p40 and type I interferon); and they enhance presentation of the products of pathogen degradation (antigenic peptides) via the MHC class I or II presentation pathway to antigen reactive T cells (Aderem and Underhill 1999) and they produce bactericidal effector substances such as nitric oxide. Thus, innate immune cells and in particular DCs represent not only a first line of defense toward infections but also play an instructive role in shaping the adaptive immune responses (Fearon and Locksley 1996).

Adaptive immunity is controlled by the generation of MHC-restricted effector T cells and production of cytokines (Abbas et al. 1996). DCs are able to stimulate naive T helper (Th) cells, which in turn may differentiate into Th1- versus Th2-polarized subsets; Th1 cells secrete primarily interferon IFNy, whereas Th2 cells produce IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, and IL-13. Upon activation, DCs upregulate the expression of costimulatory molecules, such as CD80 and CD86, thereby increasing immunogenic-ity of peptide antigens presented. Finally, DC activation triggers production of cytokines, such as IL-12, IL-18, IL-4, or IL-10, that are able to polarize emerging T cell responses. Adding to the complexity, it is to date not clear whether all forms of activation of DCs necessarily result in increased immunogenicity. Furthermore, DCs can produce different cytokines in response to different activating stimuli (Moser and Murphy 2000). An example is shown by the observation that murine DCs phagocytosing either yeast or hyphae of Candida albicans produce either IL-12 or IL-4, and in vivo drive either Th1 or Th2 differentiation, respectively (d'Ostiani et al. 2000). Therefore DCs and macrophages are important at the interface in bridging the innate and adaptive immune system (Banchereau and Steinman 1998).

4.4 Dendritic Cells as Sensors of Infection

The immune system has developed mechanisms to detect and initiate responses to a continual barrage of immunological challenges. Dendritic cells play a major role as immunosurveillance agents. To accomplish this function, DCs are equipped with highly efficient mechanisms to detect pathogens, to capture, process, and present antigens, and to initiate T cell responses. The recognition of molecular signatures of potential pathogens, in DCs, is accomplished by membrane receptor of the toll-like family (TLRs), which activates dendritic cells, leading to the initiation of adaptive immunity. TLR signaling in DCs causes an increase in display of MHC peptide ligands for T cell recognition, upregulation of costimulatory molecules important for T cell clonal expansion and secretion of immunomodulatory cytokines, which direct T cell differentiation into effectors. Remarkably, ligation of distinct TLRs can trigger differential cytokine production in a single DC type or result in different cytokines in distinct DC subtypes. Studying the complexity of DC responses to TLR ligands illuminates the link between innate recognition and adaptive immunity, paving the way for improved vaccines and strategies to induce tolerance to autoantigens or allografts.

DCs comprise a distinct subset: human blood contains at least two distinct DC types, the myeloid DC CD11c+ and the plasmacytoid DC (PDC), as well as the monocyte precursors of Mon-DC (Shortman and Liu 2002). Unlike CD11c+ DC and Mon-DC, PDCs may have primarily an innate role in regulating antiviral responses, although they can also act as antigen-presenting cells. Mon-DC, monocytes, and neutrophils, expressed mRNA for TLRs 1, 2, 4, and 5 but only Mon-DCs expressed a TLR3 message (Muzio et al. 2000). Similarly, subsequent studies reported a decrease in expression of TLRs 1, 2,4, 5, and 8 but an increase in TLR3 during monocyte differentiation into DCs (Visintin et al. 2001; Means et al. 2003). In contrast, human PDCs do not express a message for TLRs 2, 3, 4, 5, and 8 and are unresponsive to peptidoglycan, lipoteichoic acid, poly I:C, and LPS (Jarrossay et al. 2001; Kadowaki et al. 2001). PDCs express TLR9, which is not found in monocytes, granulocytes, Mon-DC, and CD11c+ DC.

The situation is different in mouse: mouse spleen PDCs express TLR7 and TLR9 but, in contrast to human, they also express mRNA for most other TLRs (Edwards et al. 2003). TLR9 is expressed by both murine plasmacytoid and nonplasmacytoid DCs. Thus, discussion of TLR repertoires should be restricted to particular cases where a given DC subset does not express detectable mRNA or respond to ligands for a particular TLR. We can use information about TLR repertoires and DC subset biology to predict some of the functions of TLRs in the immune system.

4.5 Dendritic Cell Transcriptional Profile Induced by Pathogens Include Cytokines and Chemokines

DCs have a crucial role in linking the class of immune response to the invading pathogen through the differential expression of T cell polarizing signals upon the ligation of selective pattern recognition receptors. The detailed mechanisms are still unknown. It is emerging that Th1 responses are initiated by intracellular TLR (TLR3, 7, 8, and 9) on DCs, resulting in high expression of the IL-12 gene family.

The microarray analysis has been used to study the DC transcriptome upon infection, by comparing the gene expression responses of dendritic cells to a bacterium (E. coll), a virus (influenza A), and a fungus (C. albicans) (Huang et al. 2001). In this work, a core of 166 genes that were induced by each organism in dendritic cells was described. The expression pattern of these genes indicated the sequence of events and coordination of pathways involved in immune responses.

Genes whose transcripts declined soon after pathogen contact include those involved in pathogen recognition and phagocytosis. Also at this stage, there was upregulation of genes expressing cytokines, chemokines, and immune cell receptors, which allows recruitment of other innate immune cells to the site of infection and genes modulating the cytoskeleton, which the authors postulated may be involved in dendritic cell migration. By 12 h after infection, there was increased expression of transcription factors and signaling molecules involved in lymphoid tissue regulation, antigen processing, and presentation. By 18 h, there was upregulation of chemokine receptor expression, thought to be related to the migration of dendritic cells to lymph nodes. In the time frame analyzed there was a sustained upregulation of production of reactive oxygen species, suggesting that there was continued killing of organisms by dendritic cells. This common core response was independent of pathogen characteristics and occurred in a coordinated fashion modulating innate and adaptive responses.

Expression analyses have shown that after microbial interaction, DCs undergo a multistep maturation process (Granucci et al. 2001) and acquire specific immune functions (Fig. 3), depending on the type of microbe they have encountered. The DC transcriptome has been described with a variety of different maturation stimuli. We have defined in detail the transcriptome induced in murine DCs by different pathogens such as Schistosoma mansoni and Leishmania mexicana. The data clearly demonstrate that individual parasites induce both common and individual regulatory networks within the cell. This suggests a mechanism whereby host-pathogen interaction is translated into an appropriate host inflammatory response.

Shistosoma mansoni, is a helminth parasite, has a complex life cycle that is initiated by the transcutaneous penetration of the larvae followed by its rapid transformation into schistosomula (SLA) (Pearce

DC segregate in time two genetic programs

activated DC are re-programmed

Kinetic of DC activation data

Fig. 3. DCs accomplish a number of tasks because they segregate in time two genetic programs and MacDonald 2002; MadDonald et al. 2001). Once in the skin, SLA closely interact with immunocompetent cells, including DCs, to manipulate the host immune response (Ramaswamy et al. 2000; Angeli et al. 2001). SLA then begin a long vascular journey to reach the intrahepatic venous system, where they mature into adult male and egg-producing female worms. Eggs that accumulate in the liver, spleen, and lungs induce inflammation and an intense granulomatous hyper-sensitivity reaction (Rumbley and Phillips 1999). We have investigated DC-schistosome interactions using a genome-wide expression study. We have used a near-homogeneous source of mouse DCs, the well-defined, long term D1 splenic population (Winzler et al. 1997). The kinetic global gene expression analysis of mouse DCs stimulated with eggs or SLA indicated that genes encoding inflammatory cytokines, chemokines, and IFN-inducible proteins were oppositely regulated by the two stimuli (Trottein et al. 2004). Interestingly, eggs, but not SLA, induced the expression of IFN-P that efficiently triggered the type I IFN receptor (IFNAR) expressed on DCs, causing phosphorylation of STAT-1 with consequent upregulation of IFN-induced inflammatory products.

Clustering techniques applied to 283 differentially expressed genes revealed two signatures: the egg time-course experiment was compatible with a progressive cell differentiation process, such as maturation, whereas observations from SLA-stimulated DC samples suggested the occurrence of a stable blocking event within the first 4 h. Moreover, eggs modulated different amounts and subsets of genes in comparison with SLA, indicating that the two developmental stages of S. mansoni affected distinct intracellular pathways in DCs possibly by triggering specific receptors. The egg stage sustains the maximization of Ag presentation efficiency in DCs by inducing the upregulation of H-2M, which plays a crucial role in the peptide loading of MHC class II molecules (Kovats et al. 1998) and of the costimulatory molecules CD40 and ICAM-1. Cathepsins D and L, which are believed to remove the invariant chain from its complex with MHC class II molecules (Villadangos et al. 1999), are downregulated by SLA, but are not modulated by eggs, suggesting a reduction in the Ag processing capacity exerted by the larval stage on DCs. Moreover, the egg stage induced the expression of proinflam-matory cytokine transcripts, such as TNF-a, and chemokines, such as

IP-10 (CXCL10), monocyte chemoattractant protein-5 (CCL12), MIP-1a (CCL3), MIP-1P (CCL4), MIP-1y (CCL9), and MIP-2 (CXCL2), which are known to collectively attract granulocytes, immature DCs, NK cells, and activated T cells (Greaves and Schall 2000). S. mansoni eggs, but not SLA, induced the production of high amounts of IL-2, which could be important for DC-mediated activation of NK cells (Fernandez et al. 1999) or NKT cells (Fujii et al. 2002) as well as for priming naive T cells (Granucci et al. 2003a).

Mouse myeloid DCs, in response to helminth eggs, activate a strong interferon response compared to SLA. We have observed that the DC-derived IFNP molecule efficiently triggered the IFNAR expressed on DCs, thus providing an autocrine and/or paracrine stimulation mechanism. Therefore, our data indicate myeloid DCs as one possible mediator of type IIFN signaling as well as one plausible source of IP-10 and MIP-1 production, also in response to helminth infections. The comparative gene expression analysis revealed two different DC global transcriptional modifications induced by either Schistosoma eggs or SLA, consistent with the different responses induced in vivo by these two parasite stages. Taken as a whole, these observations have provided new molecular insights into the host-parasite interaction established in the course of schistosomiasis leading to the identification of a type I IFN-dependent mechanism by which DCs may amplify inflammatory reactions in response to helminth infection.

As mentioned above, immature DCs express receptors that bind to microbes and microbial products, which are then internalized and processed for presentation to T cells. Whole bacteria and microbial products have all been found to induce cytokine and chemokines production by DCs. We have also used live bacteria to perturb immature DCs in the attempt to identify the kinetics of the DC reprogramming. DC functions are indeed determined according to a precise time frame. We observed that most of the changes in gene expression occur very early (2-4 h) after microbial encounter. A detailed analysis of the induced DC transcrip-tome has shown that at early time points following microbial exposure, the genes that are differentially expressed include those of the inflammatory and immune response pathway (IL1P, IL1ra, TNFa, IL-12 p40, IL-6, MIP-1a, P, y, MIP-2a, I-309, C10, MCP-5, MIF, IP-10, GRO-1), as well as those involved in the interferon-inducible response.

In these transcriptional analyses, the most unexpected finding was the ability of R-DCs to produce IL-2 between 4 and 6 h after microbial exposure (Granucci et al. 2001). The IL-2 has been described as a NK, B, and T cell growth factor, and for this reason it may represent a key molecule conferring to DCs the unique ability to activate cells of the innate response. In agreement with this hypothesis, we have shown that IL-2-deficient DCs are severely impaired in their ability to activate NK cell responses both in vitro and in vivo as revealed by measuring antibacterial and anti-tumor responses (Aebischer et al. 2005).

4.6 Activation of NK Cells by Dendritic Cells Is Mediated by Dendritic Cell-Derived IL-2

The observation that DCs can produce IL-2 opens new possibilities for understanding the mechanisms by which DCs control innate immunity. Only microbial stimuli, and not inflammatory cytokines, are able to induce IL-2 secretion by DCs (Granucci et al. 2003a), indicating that this IL-2 production is tightly regulated by microbial signals and that DCs can distinguish between the actual presence of an infection and a cytokine-mediated inflammatory process. Thus, the adjuvant property of bacteria is explained by inducing in DCs immediate IL-2 production. This seems to be a unique feature of DCs, as macrophages are unable to produce IL-2 after bacterial activation. The ability of DCs to rapidly respond to microbial interaction with IL-2 production is also shown with parasites (e.g., Leishmania mexicana) and helminth (e.g., Schistosoma species) (Aebischer et al. 2005; Trottein et al. 2004). Of interest, only inflammatory stages of these two organisms (Schistosoma eggs or Leish-mania promastigote) can induce IL-2 transcription in DCs (Aebischer et al. 2005; Trottein et al. 2004).

The cross-talk between DCs and NK cells has been described in the context of immune responses to infectious agents and tumors. IL-2 produced early by bacterially activated mouse DCs seems to play a fundamental role in the activation of NK cell-mediated immunity in vitro and in vivo (Granucci 2004). This indicates that in addition to its well-defined function in acquired immunity, IL-2 is also necessary, at least after bacterial infections, for the regulation of innate immune responses.

The biological relevance of NK cell activation mediated by DCs during bacterial infections resides mainly in the secretion of IFN-y, which represents the principal phagocyte-activating factor. In addition, the secretion of IFN-yand TNF-a by activated NK cells in response to interaction with DCs provides a cytokine milieu promoting a strong cell-mediated innate immune response most beneficial in defense against microbial infections. Thus, DCs, through their ability to limit the spread of pathogens via innate cytokines, including IL-2 and type I IFNs, and to recruit innate cells via chemokine production, effectively participate in the early phases of the immune response. At later phases of the immune response, they also mediate immune-regulatory functions that will promote and shape acquired immune responses.

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