Background: It is generally believed that M cells do not modify the antigens they transport from the intestinal lumen to underlying immunocompetent cells because it has been reported that M cells contain few elements of the lysosomal system.
Methods: We used specific cytochemical and immunocytochemical probes to examine whether M cells in jejunal Peyer's patches of adult rats contain the requisite intracellular components to process and potentially present endocytosed antigens.
Results: M cells contained acid phosphatase-enriched prelysosomelike and lysosomelike structures. A basic congener of dinitrophenol, which concentrates in acidic cell compartments, is localized following its instillation into Peyer's patch-containing ligated jejunal loops to the endosomal-lysosomal system of M cells. Prelysosomelike and lysosomelike structures in ultrathin cryosections of M cells reacted with polyclonal antibody to a membrane glycoprotein (lgp120) enriched in prelysosomes and lysosomes. Using monoclonal antibody OX6 as a probe, M cells expressed the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II determinant, Ia, on the basolateral plasma membrane and in organelles with structural features of endosomes, prelysosomes, and lysosomes. Expression was enhanced by pretreatment with interferon gamma.
Conclusions: M cells possess acidic endosomal and acid phosphatase-containing prelysosomal and lysosomal compartments and express MHC class II determinants. Hence, M cells may have the capacity to process and present endocytosed antigens to adjacent intraepithelial T lymphocytes.