Distribution of MHC II (+) cells in skin of the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus): An initial investigation of dolphin dendritic cells


  • Tanja S. Zabka,

    1. Department of Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Parasitology, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia
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  • Tracy A. Romano

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Veterinary Anatomy and Public Health, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
    • Department of Veterinary Anatomy and Public Health, Texas A&M University, VMA Building, Room 107A, College Station, TX 77843
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    • Fax: (619) 553-5068


The skin is an important tissue of the immune system; however, little is known about immune cells in dolphin skin, and very few cetacean-specific immunoreagents are available for investigative purposes. Therefore, in this study immunohistochemistry techniques were used with species-specific and non-species-specific antibodies to characterize immune cells, primarily focusing on Langerhans cells, in skin from the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). An antibody to human major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecules labeled cells with a dendritic-like morphology. The immunophenotype, morphology, and distribution of some of these cells are consistent with those of Langerhans cells. The cells were predominantly found in dermal papillae, primarily along the epidermal–dermal junction. Thus, the location of these cells was somewhat different from that in terrestrial mammals. Other MHC II (+) cells of varying morphology were observed deeper in the dermis, with a perivascular concentration, and had characteristics of macrophages and dermal dendritic cells. There was no immunostaining with cetacean-specific CD2 or CD21. In diseased skin, a subjective increase of MHC II (+) cells, most notably in the superficial skin layers, was associated with an ulcerative dermatitis. A few CD2 (+) cells were also present. Differences between dolphins and terrestrial mammals in terms of morphology, mechanisms of response to insult and repair, and environmental challenges may explain the modified distribution of MHC II (+) cells in dolphin skin. An elucidation of the immune cells in cetacean skin will contribute to our understanding of the evolution of functional adaptations to various environments, facilitate diagnosis of skin diseases, and define the potential for intradermal administration of vaccines and other immunotherapeutics. Anat Rec Part A 273A:636–647, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.