Dendritic cells (DCs) migrate from peripheral tissues to secondary lymphoid organs (SLOs) through the afferent lymph. Owing to limitations in investigating human lymph, DCs flowing in afferent lymph have not been properly characterized in humans until now. In this study, DCs present in seroma, an accrual of human afferent lymph occurring after lymph node surgical dissection, were isolated and analyzed in detail. Two main DC subsets were identified in seroma that corresponded to the migratory DC subsets present in lymph nodes, that is, CD14+ and CD1a+. The latter also included CD1a bright Langerhans cells. The two DC subsets appeared to share the same monocytic precursor and to be developmentally related; both of them spontaneously released high levels of TGF-β and displayed similar T cell-activating and - polarizing properties. In contrast, they differed in the expression of surface molecules, including TLRs; in their phagocytic activity; and in the expression of proteins involved in Ag processing and presentation. It is worth noting that although both subsets were detected in seroma in the postsurgical inflammatory phase, only CD1a+ DCs migrated via afferent lymph under steady-state conditions. In conclusion, the high numbers of DCs contained in seroma fluids allowed a proper characterization of human DCs migrating via afferent lymph, revealing a continuous stream of DCs from peripheral regions toward SLOs under normal conditions. Moreover, we showed that, in inflammatory conditions, distinct subsets of DCs can migrate to SLOs via afferent lymph.
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