Prevention of infections by vaccination remains a compelling goal to improve public health. Most infections involve the mucosae, but the development of vaccines against many of these pathogens has yet to be successful. Mucosal vaccines would make immunization procedures easier, be better suited for mass administration, and most efficiently induce immune exclusion - a term coined for non-inflammatory antibody shielding of internal body surfaces - mediated principally by secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA). The exported antibodies are polymeric, mainly IgA dimers (pIgA) - produced by local plasma cells stimulated by antigens that target the mucosae. SIgA was early shown to be complexed with an epithelial glycoprotein - the secretory component (SC). In 1974, a common SC-dependent transport of pIgA and pentameric IgM was proposed. From the basolateral surface, pIg-SC complexes are taken up by endocytosis and finally extruded into the lumen. Membrane SC is now referred to as polymeric Ig receptor (pIgR). In 1980, it was shown to be synthesized as a larger transmembrane protein - first cloned from rabbit and then from human. Mice deficient for pIgR showed that this is the only receptor responsible for epithelial transport of IgA and IgM. In the gut, induction of B cells occurs in gut-associated lymphoid tissue, particularly the Peyer's patches, but also in mesenteric lymph nodes. Plasma cell differentiation is accomplished in the lamina propria to which the memory/effector cells home. The airways also receive such cells from nasopharynx-associated lymphoid tissue - but by different homing receptors. Such compartmentalization is a challenge for development of mucosal vaccines.