Dendritic cells, while effective in sensitizing T cells to several different antigens, show little or no phagocytic activity. To the extent that endocytosis is required for antigen processing and presentation, it is not evident how dendritic cells would present particle-associated peptides. Evidence has now been obtained showing that progenitors to dendritic cells can internalize particles, including Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) mycobacteria. The particulates are applied for 20 h to bone marrow cultures that have been stimulated with granulocyte/macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) to induce aggregates of growing dendritic cells. Cells within these aggregates are clearly phagocytic. If the developing cultures are exposed to particles, washed, and "chased" for 2 d, the number of major histocompatibility complex class II-rich dendritic cells increases substantially and at least 50% contain internalized mycobacteria or latex particles. The mycobacteria-laden, newly developed dendritic cells are much more potent in presenting antigens to primed T cells than corresponding cultures of mature dendritic cells that are exposed to a pulse of organisms. A similar situation exists when the BCG-charged dendritic cells are injected into the footpad or blood stream of naive mice. Those dendritic cells that have phagocytosed organisms induce the strongest T cell responses to mycobacterial antigens in draining lymph node and spleen. The administration of antigens to GM-CSF-induced, developing dendritic cells (by increasing both antigen uptake and cell numbers) will facilitate the use of these antigen-presenting cells for active immunization in situ.

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