The common mucosal immune system and current strategies for induction of immune responses in external secretions

J Clin Immunol. 1987 Jul;7(4):265-76. doi: 10.1007/BF00915547.


The selective induction of antibodies in external secretions is desirable for the prevention of various systemic as well as predominantly mucosa-restricted infections. An enormous surface area of mucosal membranes is protected primarily by antibodies that belong, in many species, to the IgA isotype. Such antibodies are produced locally by large numbers of IgA-containing plasma cells distributed in subepithelial spaces of mucosal membranes and in the stroma of secretory glands. In humans and in some animal species, plasma-derived IgA antibodies do not enter external secretions in significant quantities and systemically administered preformed IgA antibodies would be of little use for passive immunization. Systemic administration of microbial antigens may boost an effective S-IgA immune response only in a situation whereby an immunized individual had previously encountered the same antigen by the mucosal route. Local injection of antigen in the vicinity of secretory glands is usually accompanied by an undesirable concomitant systemic response and frequently requires the addition of adjuvants that are unacceptable for administration in humans. Immunization routes that involve ingestion or possibly inhalation of antigens lead to the induction of not only local but also generalized immune responses manifested by the parallel appearance of S-Iga antibodies to ingested or inhaled antigens in secretions of glands distant from the site of immunization. Based on extensive studies in animal models as well as in humans, convincing evidence is available that antigen-sensitized and IgA-committed precursors of plasma cells from GALT are disseminated to the gut, other mucosa-associated tissues, and exocrine glands. However, due to the limited absorption of desired antigens from the gut lumen of orally immunized individuals, repeated large doses of antigens are required for an effective S-IgA response. Novel antigen delivery systems for the stimulation of such responses are currently being examined in several laboratories. Live attenuated or genetically manipulated bacteria expressing other microbial antigens have also been used for selective colonization of gut-associated lymphoid tissues. Unique antigen packaging and the use of adjuvants suitable for oral administration hold promise for an efficient antigen delivery to critical tissues in the intestine and deserve extensive exploration. The oral immunization route appears to have many advantages over systemic immunization.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens / administration & dosage
  • Humans
  • Immune System / immunology*
  • Immune System / metabolism
  • Immunization
  • Immunoglobulin A, Secretory / biosynthesis*
  • Mucous Membrane / immunology*
  • Mucous Membrane / metabolism


  • Antigens
  • Immunoglobulin A, Secretory