Outermost barriers are critical for terrestrial animals to avoid desiccation and to protect their bodies from foreign insults. Mammalian skin consists of two sets of barriers: stratum corneum (SC) and tight junctions (TJs). How acquisition of external antigens (Ags) by epidermal Langerhans cells (LCs) occur despite these barriers has remained unknown. We show that activation-induced LCs elongate their dendrites to penetrate keratinocyte (KC) TJs and survey the extra-TJ environment located outside of the TJ barrier, just beneath the SC. Penetrated dendrites uptake Ags from the tip where Ags colocalize with langerin/ Birbeck granules. TJs at KC-KC contacts allow penetration of LC dendrites by dynamically forming new claudin-dependent bicellular- and tricellulin-dependent tricellular TJs at LC-KC contacts, thereby maintaining TJ integrity during Ag uptake. Thus, covertly under keratinized SC barriers, LCs and KCs demonstrate remarkable cooperation that enables LCs to gain access to external Ags that have violated the SC barrier while concomitantly retaining TJ barriers to protect intra-TJ environment.
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