Human dendritic cells (DC) can now be generated in vitro in large numbers by culturing CD34+ hematopoietic progenitors in presence of GM-CSF+TNF alpha for 12 d. The present study demonstrates that cord blood CD34+ HPC indeed differentiate along two independent DC pathways. At early time points (day 5-7) during the culture, two subsets of DC precursors identified by the exclusive expression of CD1a and CD14 emerge independently. Both precursor subsets mature at day 12-14 into DC with typical morphology and phenotype (CD80, CD83, CD86, CD58, high HLA class II). CD1a+ precursors give rise to cells characterized by the expression of Birbeck granules, the Lag antigen and E-cadherin, three markers specifically expressed on Langerhans cells in the epidermis. In contrast, the CD14+ progenitors mature into CD1a+ DC lacking Birbeck granules, E-cadherin, and Lag antigen but expressing CD2, CD9, CD68, and the coagulation factor XIIIa described in dermal dendritic cells. The two mature DC were equally potent in stimulating allogeneic CD45RA+ naive T cells. Interestingly, the CD14+ precursors, but not the CD1a+ precursors, represent bipotent cells that can be induced to differentiate, in response to M-CSF, into macrophage-like cells, lacking accessory function for T cells. Altogether, these results demonstrate that different pathways of DC development exist: the Langerhans cells and the CD14(+)-derived DC related to dermal DC or circulating blood DC. The physiological relevance of these two pathways of DC development is discussed with regard to their potential in vivo counterparts.

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