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J Immunol Methods. 1999 Apr 22;224(1-2):111-27.

A new isolation method for rat intraepithelial lymphocytes.

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Department of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester 01655, USA.


Intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs) play critical roles in gut immunity. In mice, gammadelta T cells are a large component of the IEL population. In the rat, gammadelta IELs are reportedly much less common, but technical issues suggest that previous analyses should be interpreted cautiously. The study of IELs in rats has been impeded by isolation procedures that are lengthy and complex, leading to small cell yields. For this reason, it is possible that rat IELs analyzed in previous studies have not been representative of the entire IEL compartment. We report a new method for the isolation of rat IELs that is based on the selective removal of intestinal epithelial cells under conditions that leave the basement membrane undisturbed. The method is rapid and requires neither enzymatic digestion, nor surgical removal of Peyer's patches, nor vigorous mechanical manipulation of the intestine. The yield of rat IELs using this method is 5- to 10-fold greater than that reported for other methods. Morphological and phenotypic analyses demonstrated that the purified cell population is comprised of IELs and is not contaminated with lamina propria or Peyer's patch lymphocytes. Phenotypic analysis revealed five major subsets of IELs based on differential cell surface expression of CD4, CD8, and alphabeta T cell receptor (TcR). Among the alphabetaTcR- cells was a population of gammadelta T cells present at levels not previously detected. The isolation of IEL sub-populations using this methodology should facilitate studies of the function of these cells in gut immunity.

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