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Skin dendritic cells and sustained background IL-13 may be allergy key

Urticaria. Photo by: Allergyresearch via Wikimedia Commons

New findings suggest that dendritic cells behave differently in the skin than elsewhere in the body, in contrast to the established perception of how these immune cells behave. This difference may play an important role in allergic disease, according to the authors of an article published in Nature Immunology (Nov. 18, 2021; 22:1538–1550).

“Historically, we’ve assumed that a dendritic cell in the skin is virtually identical in form and function as a dendritic cell in the lung,” said senior author Professor Franca Ronchese, PhD, in a press release.

“We’re only just realizing that’s not the case, so in many ways we’re playing catch up in terms of our understanding and implications in disease.”

Dr. Ronchese is head of the immune cell biology program at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research in Wellington, New Zealand.

The research group found that dendritic cells in the skin sustain a low level of interleukin-13, compared to similar cells in other organs which only release the immune-response stimulating molecule in the context of cellular damage.

Dr. Ronchese suggested that the skin may have a need to be at a constant state of elevated alertness to potentially harmful foreign material, leading to the constant presence of IL-13. She said that these findings suggest that the immune cells in the skin, particularly dendritic cells, have uniquely adapted to the presence of IL-13 compared to elsewhere in the body.

However, she noted that this ‘priming’ may also play a factor in why some people develop allergic disease.

“It’s clear that there is something going on in the immune cells in the skin that is unlike anywhere else in the body,” Dr. Ronchese said. “While we have a lot of work to do to pinpoint exactly what is happening, we know that immune cells in the skin are much more likely to initiate allergic responses, and we believe that IL-13 is an important factor in this.”


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