Just like cigarettes are “nicotine” delivery systems, dendritic cells (DCs) are antigen delivery cells. After decades of research, it is now clear that DCs are at the center of the immune system, given their ability to control both immune tolerance and general immunity. Immunity results from a complex interplay between the innate immune system (which is antigen-nonspecific) and the adaptive immune system (which is antigen-specific). The cells and molecules of the innate immune system use non-clonal recognition receptors, including but not limited to lectins, Toll-like receptors (TLRs), NOD-like receptors (NLRs) and helicases. B cells and T cells of the adaptive immune system use clonal receptors that recognize antigens, or their derived peptides, in a highly specific manner.
In 2011, the Nobel Prize for Medicine – Physiology was awarded for the discovery of molecular and cellular sensors of microbes. Jules Hoffman and Bruce Beutler received the award for their seminal contributions to the discovery of TLRs in the 1990s. Ralph Steinman, who eventually died from advanced pancreatic cancer despite his use of experimental DCs via vaccines, received the award for the discovery in 1973 of DCs three days after his death.
DCs, are linked to their environment through a wealth of molecular sensors that allow them to capture invading microbes and to transmit the resulting information to lymphocytes. Thus, DCs provide an essential link between the innate and adaptive immune responses. In this perspective, the immune system has the potential to eliminate neoplastic cells. And as we have known for centuries, the key to malignant reversibility lies within….not with the “cut-poison-burn” approach.
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