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Abstract

Murine bone marrow-derived dendritic cells (DC) can be generated by culture in the presence of granulocyte/macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) alone or GM-CSF in conjunction with interleukin-4 (IL-4). However, these two culture methods result in the production of heterogeneous DC populations with distinct phenotypic and stimulatory properties. In this study, we investigated the properties of DC generated under serum-free conditions in the presence or absence of IL-4 and compared their yield and phenotype to that of DC generated in the presence of fetal calf serum (FCS) (±IL-4). We did not observe a significant difference in the total cell yield between these four culture conditions, although the proportion of CD11c+ DC in cultures that received FCS was higher than that of their counterparts generated under serum-free conditions. Also, the four culture conditions generated CD11c+ DC with comparable levels of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II, CD40, CD80 and CD86 expression, with the exception of cells cultured under serum-free conditions in the absence of IL-4, which displayed suboptimal levels of these markers. Moreover, we compared the functional and stimulatory properties of DC generated under serum-free conditions in the presence or absence of IL-4. DC cultured in the presence of IL-4 were stronger stimulators of allogeneic splenocytes in a primary mixed lymphocyte reaction (MLR) and of naïve antigen-specific OT-II transgenic T cells when pulsed with the class II ovalbumin (OVA)323−339 peptide or whole OVA protein than DC cultured in the absence of IL-4. However, both DC populations displayed a similar capacity to take up fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC)–albumin by macropinocytosis and FITC–Dextran by the mannose receptor and to secrete IL-12 in response to stimulation with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or an agonistic anti-CD40 monoclonal antibody. Therefore, we conclude that although both DC culture methods result in the production of DC with similar functional abilities, under serum-free conditions, DC cultured in GM-CSF and IL-4 show an increased stimulatory potential over DC cultured in GM-CSF alone. This is an important consideration in the design of experiments where DC are being exploited as immunotherapeutic vaccines.