To determine whether the ocular anterior segment (aqueous humor and cornea) actively inhibits dendritic cell (DC) maturation.
Dendritic cells were injected into syngeneic corneas or conjunctivae, and their surface major histocompatibility complex class II expression in response to the local milieu was assessed using confocal microscopy. Immature DCs were cocultured with corneal supernatant or with aqueous humor to evaluate their regulation of DC phenotypic and functional maturity.
In contrast to conjunctivally injected DCs, DCs injected into the cornea resisted up-regulation in expression of surface major histocompatibility complex class II. Corneal supernatant–treated and aqueous humor–treated DCs retained their immaturity, as reflected by high antigen uptake but low costimulatory molecule (CD80 and CD86) expression and poor T-cell stimulation. Anti–transforming growth factor β2 treatment of aqueous humor and of corneal supernatant led to complete and partial blockade of their inhibition of DC maturation, respectively. However, α-melanocyte–stimulating hormone and calcitonin gene-related peptide had no demonstrable effect on DC maturation.
Cornea and aqueous humor, principally through transforming growth factor β2, promote generation of phenotypically and functionally immature DCs.
Our results indicate that relative immune quiescence in the cornea and in the anterior segment is actively maintained in part by the inhibitory effect of transforming growth factor β2 on resident DCs and by their suppression of T-cell–mediated immune and inflammatory responses.