, Volume 59, Issue 1, pp 1-11

Killer dendritic cells and their potential for cancer immunotherapy

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Abstract

Known for years as the principal messengers of the immune system, dendritic cells (DC) represent a heterogeneous population of antigen presenting cells critically located at the nexus between innate and adaptive immunity. DC play a central role in the initiation of tumor-specific immune responses as they are endowed with the unique ability to take up, process and present tumor antigens to naïve CD4+ or CD8+ effector T lymphocytes. By virtue of the cytokines they produce, DC also regulate the type, strength and duration of T cell immune responses. In addition, they can participate in anti-tumoral NK and NKT cell activation and in the orchestration of humoral immunity. More recent studies have documented that besides their primary role in the induction and regulation of adaptive anti-tumoral immune responses, DC are also endowed with the capacity to directly kill cancer cells. This dual role of DC as killers and messengers may have important implications for tumor immunotherapy. First, the direct killing of malignant cells by DC may foster the release and thereby the immediate availability of specific tumor antigens for presentation to cytotoxic or helper T lymphocytes. Second, DC may participate in the effector phase of the immune response, potentially augmenting the diversity of the killing mechanisms leading to tumor elimination. This review focuses on this non-conventional cytotoxic function of DC as it relates to the promotion of cancer immunity and discusses the potential application of killer DC (KDC) in tumor immunotherapy.