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Epidermal Langerhans cells (eLCs) uniquely express the C-type lectin receptor langerin in addition to the HIV entry receptors CD4 and CCR5. They are among the first target cells to encounter HIV in the anogenital stratified squamous mucosa during sexual transmission. Previous reports on the mechanism of HIV transfer to T cells and the role of langerin have been contradictory. In this study, we examined HIV replication and langerin-mediated viral transfer by authentic immature eLCs and model Mutz-3 LCs. eLCs were productively infected with HIV, whereas Mutz-3 LCs were not susceptible because of a lack of CCR5 expression. Two successive phases of HIV viral transfer to T cells via cave/vesicular trafficking and de novo replication were observed with eLCs as previously described in monocyte-derived or blood dendritic cells, but only first phase transfer was observed with Mutz-3 LCs. Langerin was expressed as trimers after cross-linking on the cell surface of Mutz-3 LCs and in this form preferentially bound HIV envelope protein gp140 and whole HIV particles via the carbohydrate recognition domain (CRD). Both phases of HIV transfer from eLCs to T cells were inhibited when eLCs were pretreated with a mAb to langerin CRD or when HIV was pretreated with a soluble langerin trimeric extracellular domain or by a CRD homolog. However, the langerin homolog did not inhibit direct HIV infection of T cells. These two novel soluble langerin inhibitors could be developed to prevent HIV uptake, infection, and subsequent transfer to T cells during early stages of infection.
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