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Front Immunol. 2019 Jun 11;10:1323. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2019.01323. eCollection 2019.

Airway M Cells Arise in the Lower Airway Due to RANKL Signaling and Reside in the Bronchiolar Epithelium Associated With iBALT in Murine Models of Respiratory Disease.

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Laboratory of Histology and Cytology, Graduate School of Medicine, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan.
Division of Biochemistry, Faculty of Pharmacy, Keio University, Tokyo, Japan.
Department of Orthodontics, Faculty of Dental Medicine, Graduate School of Dental Medicine, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan.
Division of Oral Functional Science, Department of Oral Functional Prosthodontics, Graduate School of Dental Medicine, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan.
School of Medicine, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan.
Division of Pulmonary Medicine, Department of Medicine, Keio University School of Medicine, Tokyo, Japan.


Microfold (M) cells residing in the follicle-associated epithelium of mucosa-associated lymphoid tissues are specialized for sampling luminal antigens to initiate mucosal immune responses. In the past decade, glycoprotein 2 (GP2) and Tnfaip2 were identified as reliable markers for M cells in the Peyer's patches of the intestine. Furthermore, RANKL-RANK signaling, as well as the canonical and non-canonical NFκB pathways downstream, is essential for M-cell differentiation from the intestinal stem cells. However, the molecular characterization and differentiation mechanisms of M cells in the lower respiratory tract, where organized lymphoid tissues exist rarely, remain to be fully elucidated. Therefore, this study aimed to explore M cells in the lower respiratory tract in terms of their specific molecular markers, differentiation mechanism, and functions. Immunofluorescence analysis revealed a small number of M cells expressing GP2, Tnfaip2, and RANK is present in the lower respiratory tract of healthy mice. The intraperitoneal administration of RANKL in mice effectively induced M cells, which have a high capacity to take up luminal substrates, in the lower respiratory epithelium. The airway M cells associated with lymphoid follicles were frequently detected in the pathologically induced bronchus-associated lymphoid tissue (iBALT) in the murine models of autoimmune disease as well as pulmonary emphysema. These findings demonstrate that RANKL is a common inducer of M cells in the airway and digestive tracts and that M cells are associated with the respiratory disease. We also established a two-dimensional culture method for airway M cells from the tracheal epithelium in the presence of RANKL successfully. This model may be useful for functional studies of M cells in the sampling of antigens at airway mucosal surfaces.


GP2; M cells; RANKL; iBALT; lower airway; microfold cells

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