Epithelial M cells: differentiation and function

Annu Rev Cell Dev Biol. 2000;16:301-32. doi: 10.1146/annurev.cellbio.16.1.301.


M cells are distinctive epithelial cells that occur only in the follicle-associated epithelia that overlie organized mucosa-associated lymphoid tissues. They are structurally and functionally specialized for transepithelial transport, delivering foreign antigens and microorganisms to organized lymphoid tissues within the mucosae of the small and large intestines, tonsils and adenoids, and airways. M cell transport is a double-edged sword: Certain pathogens exploit the features of M cells that are intended to promote uptake for the purpose of immunological sampling. Eludication of the molecular architecture of M cell apical surfaces is important for understanding the strategies that pathogens use to exploit this pathway and for utilizing M cell transport for delivery of vaccines to the mucosal immune system. This article reviews the functional and biochemical features that distinguish M cells from other intestinal cell types. In addition it synthesizes the available information on development and differentiation of organized lymphoid tissues and the specialized epithelium associated with these immune inductive sites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Lymphoid Tissue / cytology
  • Mucous Membrane / cytology