Identification and functional analysis of tumor-infiltrating plasmacytoid dendritic cells in head and neck cancer

Evelyn Hartmann, Barbara Wollenberg, Simon Rothenfusser, Moritz Wagner, Daniela Wellisch, Brigitte Mack, Thomas Giese, Olivier Gires, Stefan Endres, Gunther Hartmann*

*Corresponding author for this work
272 Citations (Scopus)


The antitumor activity of IFN-α is well established. However, the role of the plasmacytoid dendritic cell (PDC), the major producer of IFN-α upon viral infection, in tumor biology is unknown. We sought to study the presence and function of PDC in a human solid tumor. Here, we demonstrate that PDCs infiltrate tumor tissue of patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Functional activity of PDC was examined by using CpG motif containing oligonucleotides, a defined microbial stimulus for PDCs (recognized via toll-like receptor 9). We found that HNSCC diminished the ability of PDC to produce IFN-α in response to CpG motif containing oligonucleotide. Tumor-induced down-regulation of toll-like receptor 9 was identified as one mechanism likely contributing to impaired PDC function within the tumor environment. In tumor-draining lymph nodes, suppression of CpG-induced IFN-α production was less pronounced than in single-cell suspensions of primary tumor tissue. In these lymph nodes, CpG-induced IFN-α production was associated with increased levels of interferon-induced protein 10 and IFN-α and activation of CD4 and CD8 T cells. These results show for the first time the presence of PDCs in human solid tumor tissue and that tumors suppress the capacity of PDCs to produce IFN-α. PDCs, which in the absence of appropriate stimulation are reported to promote regulatory CD8 T cells, may contribute to an impaired T-cell-mediated immune response in HNSCC.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCancer Research
Issue number19
Pages (from-to)6478-6487
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 01.10.2003


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