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Immunology. 2004 Sep;113(1):15-22.

Improving M cell mediated transport across mucosal barriers: do certain bacteria hold the keys?

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Laboratory of Gut Immunology, Programme of Gastrointestinal Health and Function, Institute of Food Research, Norwich, UK.


Specialized microfold (M) cells of the follicle-associated epithelium (FAE) of the mucosal-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) in gut and the respiratory system play an important role in the genesis of both mucosal and systemic immune responses by delivering antigenic substrate to the underlying lymphoid tissue where immune responses start. Although it has been shown that dendritic cells (DC) also have the ability to sample antigens directly from the gut lumen, M cells certainly remain the most important antigen-sampling cell to be investigated in order to devise novel methods to improve mucosal delivery of biologically active compounds. Recently, novel information on the interactions between bacteria and FAE have come to light that unveil further the complex cross-talk taking place at mucosal interfaces between bacteria, epithelial cells and the immune system and which are central to the formation and function of M cells. In particular, it has been shown that M cell mediated transport of antigen across the FAE is improved rapidly by exposure to certain bacteria, thus opening the way to identify new means to achieve a more effective mucosal delivery. Here, these novel findings and their potential in mucosal immunity are analysed and discussed, and new approaches to improve antigen delivery to the mucosal immune system are also proposed.

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