Published online Sep 18, 2012. doi: 10.5312/wjo.v3.i9.142
Revised: August 21, 2012
Accepted: September 15, 2012
Published online: September 18, 2012
The interaction between the receptor activator of NF-κB ligand (RANKL) and its receptor RANK plays a critical role in the development and function of diverse tissues. This review summarizes the studies regarding the functions of RANKL signaling in immune regulatory systems. Previous in vitro and in vivo studies have indicated that the RANKL signal promotes the survival of dendritic cells (DCs), thereby activating the immune response. In addition, RANKL signaling to DCs in the body surface barriers controls self-tolerance and oral-tolerance through regulatory T cell functions. In addition to regulating DC functions, the RANKL and RANK interaction is critical for the development and organization of several lymphoid organs. The RANKL signal initiates the formation of clusters of lymphoid tissue inducer cells, which is crucial for lymph node organogenesis. Moreover, the RANKL-RANK interaction controls the differentiation of M cells, specialized epithelial cells in mucosal tissues, that take up and transcytose antigen particles to control the immune response to pathogens or commensal bacterium. The development of epithelial cells localized in the thymic medulla (mTECs) is also regulated by the RANKL-RANK signal. Given that the unique property of mTECs to express a wide variety of tissue-specific self-antigens is critical for the elimination of self-antigen reactive T cells in the thymus, the RANKL-RANK interaction contributes to the suppression of autoimmunity. Future studies on the roles of the RANKL-RANK system in immune regulatory functions would be informative for the development and application of inhibitors of RANKL signaling for disease treatment.