Dendritic cells (DCs) are immune cells that form part of the mammalian immune system. Their main function is to process antigen material and present it on the surface to other cells of the immune system, thus functioning as antigen-presenting cells.
Dendritic cells are present in small quantities in tissues that are in contact with the external environment, mainly the skin (where there is a specialized dendritic cell type called Langerhans cells) and the inner lining of the nose, lungs, stomach and intestines. They can also be found in an immature state in the blood.
Once activated, they migrate to the lymphoid tissues where they interact with T cells and B cells to initiate and shape the adaptive immune response. At certain development stages they grow branched projections, the ''dendrites'', that give the cell its name. However, these do not have any special relation with neurons, which also possess similar appendages. Immature dendritic cells are also called veiled cells, in which case they possess large cytoplasmic 'veils' rather than dendrites.
Dendritic cells were first described by Paul Langerhans (Langerhans cells) in the late nineteenth century. It wasn't until 1973, however, that the term "dendritic cells" was coined by Ralph M. Steinman and Zanvil A. Cohn.. In 2007 Steinman was awarded the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research for his discovery.
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