Active sampling of intestinal antigen initiates regulated immune responses that ensure intestinal homeostasis. Several specialized mechanisms transport luminal antigen across the gut epithelium. Epithelium overlying lymphoid compartments is equipped with transcytotic microfold (M) cells that transport particulate material either directly or with the help of dendritic cells (DCs). By contrast, normal villous epithelium transports antigen by means of antigen-shuttling receptors together with phagocytes that scan the gut epithelium and potentially the gut lumen. Here, we examine recent insights into the nature of the epithelial and immune cell types involved in antigen uptake and describe how the process of antigen transport has been visualized by intravital microscopy. These new findings might help optimize antigen delivery systems for mucosal vaccination.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.