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Infect Immun. 1989 Mar;57(3):858-63.

Role of M cells in initial antigen uptake and in ulcer formation in the rabbit intestinal loop model of shigellosis.

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Department of Pathology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48109.


Strains of Shigella flexneri with different invasive and pathogenic potentials were inoculated into the intestinal lumen of acutely ligated loops in nonimmune rabbits. After 90 min, tissues processed for ultrastructural as well as light microscopy showed that the bacilli were phagocytosed by M cells over lymphoid follicles of Peyer's patches and carried in vacuoles into the epithelium. Nonpathogenic as well as pathogenic strains were readily taken up regardless of the presence of the 140-megadalton virulence plasmid. More virulent than avirulent shigellae were found in M cells at 90 min, reflecting replication or preferential uptake of the virulent strains. Heat-killed shigellae of the virulent strain were taken up by M cells to the same degree as the avirulent strains. Incubation of the bacteria for 18 h resulted in surface ulceration which was limited to epithelium overlying lymphoid follicles (M cell areas) in acute loops exposed to the virulent shigellae. Villus epithelium adjacent to the ulcerated follicular domes was intact, although there was mucus depletion. In the present study, we found that pathogenic shigellae appear to replicate in the M cells, escape from the phagocytic vesicles, and thereby initiate the ulcerations in this experimental model of dysentery. While initial antigen processing in the gut for a mucosal immune response may require uptake of luminal microorganisms by M cells, this may pose a threat under some circumstances.

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