The immune system of mouse vibrissae follicles: cellular composition and indications of immune privilege

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Although vibrissae hair follicles (VHFs) have long been a key research model in the life sciences, their immune system (IS) is essentially unknown. Therefore, we have characterized basic parameters of the VHF-IS of C57BL/6J mice by quantitative (immuno-)histomorphometry. Murine anagen VHF harbour few CD4+ and CD8+ T cells in the distal mesenchyme and sinuses but hardly any gamma-delta T cells in their distal epithelium. MHC class II+ Langerhans cells are seeded in the VHF infundibulum, which is also surrounded by MHC class II+ and CD11b+ cells (macrophages). The number of Langerhans cells then declines sharply in the VHF bulge, and the VHF bulb lacks MHC class II+ cells. Mast cells densely populate the VHF connective tissue sheath, where they strikingly cluster around the bulge. Both the bulge and the bulb of VHF display signs of immune privilege, that is, low MHC class I and MHC class II expression and local immunoinhibitor expression (CD200, TGFβ1). This immunophenotyping study fills an important gap in the immunobiology of murine skin and identifies differences between the IS of VHF, mouse pelage and human terminal HFs. This facilitates utilizing murine VHF as a versatile organ culture model for general immunology and immune privilege research in situ.

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