Phenotypic and Functional Maturation of Dendritic Cells Mediated by Heparan Sulfate

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Primary immune responses are thought to be induced by dendritic cells. To promote such responses, dendritic cells must be activated by exogenous agonists, such as LPS, or by products of activated leukocytes, such as TNF-α and IL-1. How dendritic cells might be activated in the absence of exogenous stimuli, or without the immediate presence of activated leukocytes, as might occur in immunity to tumor cells or transplants, is unknown. We postulated that heparan sulfate, an acidic, biologically active polysaccharide associated with cell membranes and extracellular matrices, which is rapidly released under conditions of inflammation and tissue damage, might provide such a stimulus. Incubation of immature murine dendritic cells with heparan sulfate induced phenotypic maturation evidenced by up-regulation of I-A, CD40, CD54 (ICAM-1), CD80 (B7-1), and CD86 (B7-2). Dendritic cells exposed to heparan sulfate exhibited a markedly lowered rate of Ag uptake and increased allostimulatory capacity. Stimulation of dendritic cells with heparan sulfate induced release of TNF-α, IL-1β, and IL-6, although the maturation of dendritic cells was independent of these cytokines. These results suggest that soluble heparan sulfate chains, as products of the degradation of heparan sulfate proteoglycan, might induce maturation of dendritic cells without exogenous stimuli, thus contributing to the generation and maintenance of primary immune responses.