Dendritic cells (DC) are described as "nature's adjuvant," since they have the capacity to sensitize T cells in vivo upon first encounter with the antigen. The potent accessory properties of DC appear to develop sequentially. In particular, the ability to process antigens and to sensitize native T cells develops in sequence, a process termed "maturation" that is well described in vitro. Here, we obtain evidence for maturation in vivo in response to the bacterial product lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Before LPS treatment, many DC are found at the margin between the red and white pulp. These cells lack the M342 and DEC-205 markers, but process soluble proteins effectively. 6 h after LPS, DC with the M342 and DEC-205 markers are found in increased numbers in the T cell areas. These cells have a reduced capacity to process proteins, but show increases in the B7 costimulator and T cell stimulatory capacity. 48 h after LPS, the number of DC in the spleen is reduced markedly. We interpret these findings to mean that LPS can cause DC in the marginal zone to mature and to migrate into and then out of the T cell areas.

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