The treatment of skin with a low-power continuous-wave (CW) near-infrared (NIR) laser prior to vaccination is an emerging strategy to augment the immune response to intradermal vaccine, potentially substituting for chemical adjuvant, which has been linked to adverse effects of vaccines. This approach proved to be low cost, simple, small, and readily translatable compared with the previously explored pulsed-wave medical lasers. However, little is known on the mode of laser-tissue interaction eliciting the adjuvant effect. In this study, we sought to identify the pathways leading to the immunological events by examining the alteration of responses resulting from genetic ablation of innate subsets including mast cells and specific dendritic cell populations in an established model of intradermal vaccination and analyzing functional changes of skin microcirculation upon the CW NIR laser treatment in mice. We found that a CW NIR laser transiently stimulates mast cells via generation of reactive oxygen species, establishes an immunostimulatory milieu in the exposed tissue, and provides migration cues for dermal CD103+ dendritic cells without inducing prolonged inflammation, ultimately augmenting the adaptive immune response. These results indicate that use of an NIR laser with distinct wavelength and power is a safe and effective tool to reproducibly modulate innate programs in skin. These mechanistic findings would accelerate the clinical translation of this technology and warrant further explorations into the broader application of NIR lasers to the treatment of immune-related skin diseases. The Journ Al of Immunology, 2018, 201: 3587-3603.
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