- Not to be confused with the cells of the islets of Langerhans, found in the pancreas, or Langhans giant cell.
Langerhans cells are dendritic cells (antigen-presenting immune cells) of the skin and mucosa, and contain large organelles called Birbeck granules. They are present in all layers of the epidermis, but are most prominent in the stratum spinosum. They also occur in the papillary dermis, particularly around blood vessels, as well as in the mucosa of the mouth, foreskin, and vagina. They can be found in other tissues, such as lymph nodes, particularly in association with the condition Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH).
Generally, dendritic cells in tissue are active in the capture, uptake and processing of antigens. Once dendritic cells arrive in secondary lymphoid tissue, however, they lose these properties while gaining the capacity to interact with naive T-cells.
Langerhans cells derive from the cellular differentiation of monocytes with the marker "Gr-1" (also known as "Ly-6G"). This differentiation requires stimulation by colony stimulating factor (CSF)-1. They are similar in morphology and function to macrophages.
In the rare disease Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH), an excess of cells similar to these cells are produced. However LCH cells stain positive to CD14 which is a monocyte marker and shows a different, hematopoietic origin for the disorder. LCH can cause damage to skin, bone and other organs.
Langerhans cells have been observed in foreskin, vaginal, and oral mucosa of humans; the lower concentrations in oral mucosa suggest that it is not a likely source of HIV infection relative to foreskin and vaginal mucosa.
On March 4, 2007 the online Nature Medicine magazine published the research letter "Langerin is a natural barrier to HIV-1 transmission by Langerhans cells." One of the authors of the study, Teunis Geijtenbeek, said that "Langerin is able to scavenge viruses from the surrounding environment, thereby preventing infection" and "since generally all tissues on the outside of our bodies have Langerhans cells, we think that the human body is equipped with an antiviral defense mechanism, destroying incoming viruses."
The Langerhans cell is named after Paul Langerhans, a German physician and anatomist, who discovered the cells at the age of 21 while he was a medical student. Because of their dendritic nature, he mistakenly identified the cells as part of the nervous system.
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- Online 'Mendelian Inheritance in Man' (OMIM) Langerhans cell histiocytosis -604856
- Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis at eMedicine
- Illustration at trinity.edu at the Wayback Machine (archived January 27, 2004)
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- Langerhans Cells at the US National Library of Medicine Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)