Intestinal Intraepithelial Lymphocytes: Sentinels of the Mucosal Barrier

Trends Immunol. 2018 Apr;39(4):264-275. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2017 Dec 5.


Intestinal intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs) are a large and diverse population of lymphoid cells that reside between the intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) that form the intestinal mucosal barrier. Although IEL biology has traditionally focused on T cells, recent studies have identified several subsets of T cell receptor (TCR)-negative IELs with intriguing properties. New insight into the development, homeostasis, and functions of distinct IEL subsets has recently been provided. Additional studies have revealed intricate interactions between different IEL subsets, reciprocal interactions between IELs and IECs, and communication of IELs with immune cells that reside outside the intestinal epithelium. We review here sentinel functions of IELs in the maintenance of the mucosal barrier integrity, as well as how dysregulated IEL responses can contribute to pathology.

Keywords: intestinal immunity; intestinal inflammation; intraepithelial lymphocytes; lymphocyte development; mucosal immunity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Mucosal
  • Inflammation / immunology*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / physiology*
  • Intraepithelial Lymphocytes / immunology*