Freshly isolated, murine epidermal Langerhans cells (LC) are weak accessory cells for primary T cell-dependent immune responses, but increase their stimulatory capacity at least 20-fold progressively over a 3-d culture with keratinocytes. We have studied the mediators of LC maturation. LC enriched from 12-h epidermal cultures by negative selection do not survive when cultured for 60 h in standard medium. LC survive and show increased stimulatory capacity for oxidative mitogenesis and the primary MLR when 30% keratinocyte-conditioned medium is included. Of the three cytokines that are known to be produced by keratinocytes, only granulocyte/macrophage CSF (GM-CSF) maintains viability and increases stimulatory capacity. IL-1 alone does not keep LC alive, but further enhances the stimulatory activity when combined with GM-CSF. IL-3 has no effect. The increase in LC stimulatory capacity is not due to increased Ia antigen expression, which does not change between 12 and 60 h. Function is not simply due to improved viability, as GM-CSF does not enhance the function of 12-h LC when added to the short-term oxidative mitogenesis assay. By generating LC with strong stimulating activity for resting T cells, GM-CSF and IL-1 may be critical in the sensitization phase of T cell-mediated immunity.

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