Dendritic cells are potent antigen-presenting cells that also produce interleukin-12 (IL-12) during innate and adaptive cellular immune responses and that thereby promote the differentiation of gamma interferon (IFN-γ)-producing Th1-type CD4+ T lymphocytes. We hypothesized that expanded dendritic-cell populations in mice pretreated with the hematopoietic cytokine Flt3L would protect against cutaneous Leishmania major infection. Pretreatment of disease-susceptible BALB/c mice with 10 μg of recombinant Flt3L (rFlt3L) for 9 to 10 days before infection increased lymph node IL-12 p40 productive capacity 20-fold compared to that of saline-injected controls. Furthermore, 9 of 22 (40.9%) rFlt3L-pretreated BALB/c mice resolved their cutaneous infections, whereas none of the 22 control BALB/c mice healed. Healed, rFlt3L-pretreated mice did not develop disease following reinfection. Flt3L pretreatment also reduced parasite numbers 1,000-fold in the cutaneous lesions at 2 weeks after infection relative to numbers in lesions of untreated controls. However, Flt3L pretreatment did not significantly alter L. major-induced IFN-γ and IL-4 production in lymph node culture at 1, 2, and 4 weeks after infection. Despite the lack of Th immune deviation, Flt3L ligand-pretreated lymph nodes expressed up to 10-fold higher levels of IL-12 p40 and inducible (type 2) nitric oxide synthase mRNA at 7 days after infection. In contrast, treatment with rFlt3L after infection failed to protect against disease despite comparable expansions of dendritic cells and IL-12 p40 productive capacity in both infected and uninfected BALB/c mice treated with rFlt3L. We conclude that rFlt3L pretreatment before infection with L. major reduces parasite load and promotes healing of cutaneous lesions without stable cytokine deviation towards a dominant Th1 cytokine phenotype
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