Intestinal epithelial cells and their role in innate mucosal immunity

Cell Tissue Res. 2011 Jan;343(1):5-12. doi: 10.1007/s00441-010-1082-5. Epub 2010 Nov 23.


The mucosal surfaces of the respiratory, gastrointestinal and urogenital tracts are covered by a layer of epithelial cells that are responsible for sensing and promoting a host immune response in order to establish the limits not only for commensal microorganisms but also for foreign organisms or particles. This is a remarkable task as the human body represents a composite of about 10 trillion human-self cells plus non-self cells from autochthonous or indigenous microbes that outnumber human cells 10:1. Hence, the homeostasis of epithelial cells that line mucosal surfaces relies on a fine-tuned immune system that patrols the boundaries between human and microbial cells. In the case of the intestine, the epithelial layer is composed of at least six epithelial cell lineages that act as a physiological barrier in addition to aiding digestion and the absorption of nutrients, water and electrolytes. In this review, we highlight the immense role of the intestinal epithelium in coordinating the mucosal innate immune response.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication / immunology
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology*
  • Immunity, Mucosal / immunology*
  • Intestines / cytology*