Topic: Dendritic cells

Dendritic cells, the "sentinels" of the immune system, were discovered at The Rockefeller University in the 1973 by Ralph Steinman and Zanvil Cohn. Pictured in green above, they were named for their ever probing, tree-like shapes.

Dendritic cells are specialized immune system cells that orchestrate a range of defenses against infectious agents and also prevent the immune system's machinery from attacking the body's own tissues.

Dendritic cells initiate and coordinate a spectrum of innate immune responses such as rapid reaction to infection, and also adaptive immune responses, which are developed over days or weeks and have a durable memory so that they can be deployed against similar threats in the future. In the cases of allergies, autoimmunity and transplant rejection, dendritic cells instigate responses that cause disease, and they can also be exploited by infections or cancers to evade immunity. Current research is exploring how to best harness the power of dendritic cells in therapies for a wide variety of conditions.

The discovery of dendritic cells, from the Greek word dendron, or tree, was published in 1973 by Rockefeller University scientists Ralph M. Steinman and Zanvil A. Cohn in the Journal of Experimental Medicine. The cells were named for their distinctive probing, arboreal shape. Steinman and colleagues have since established dendritic cells as the sentinel cells of the immune system, initiating the immune response and orchestrating the interactions of more than a dozen types of immune system cells. They have been found in the lining of the nose and throat and in the brain and arteries and heart valves, among other places. Hundreds of laboratories around the world now focus on the basic biology and clinical applications of dendritic cells, including immune therapies for cancer. Steinman and colleagues, including Rockefeller scientist Michel Nussenzweig, are currently developing novel ways to target dendritic cells in vaccines for HIV and other infectious diseases.