Two prior studies with a small number of T cell lines have shown that the presentation of native protein antigens by epidermal Langerhans cells (LC) is regulated. When freshly isolated, LC are efficient antigen-presenting cells (APC), but after a period of culture LC are inefficient or even inactive. The deficit in culture seems to be a selective loss in antigen processing, since cultured LC are otherwise rich in major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II products and are active APC for alloantigens and mitogens, which do not require processing. We have extended the analysis by studying presentation to bulk populations of primed lymph node and a T-T hybrid. Only freshly isolated LC can be pulsed with the protein antigens myoglobin and conalbumin, but once pulsed, antigen is retained in an immunogenic form for at least 2 d. The acquisition of antigen, presumably as MHC-peptide complexes, is inhibited if the fresh LC are exposed to foreign protein in the presence of chloroquine or cycloheximide. The latter, in contrast, improves the efficacy of antigen pulsing in anti-Ig-stimulated B blasts. In additional studies of mechanism, we noted that both fresh and cultured LC endocytose similar amounts of an antigen, rhodamineovalbumin, into perinuclear granules. However, freshly isolated LC synthesize high levels class II MHC molecules and express higher amounts of the class II-associated invariant chain. Fresh LC are at least 5-10 times more active than many other cells types in the level of biosynthesis of MHC class II products. These findings provide a physiologic model in which newly synthesized MHC class II molecules appear to be the principal vehicle for effective antigen processing by APC of the dendritic cell lineage. Another APC, the B lymphoblast, does not appear to require newly synthesized MHC class II molecules for presentation.

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