Cryptopatches and isolated lymphoid follicles: dynamic lymphoid tissues dispensable for the generation of intraepithelial lymphocytes



In comparison to secondary lymphoid organs, gut-associated lymphoid tissues such as isolated lymphoid follicles (ILF) and cryptopatches (CP) have been less intensively studied. To gain a better insight into processes regulating organization and function of these structures, which are believed to participate in immune responses and extrathymic T cell development, we characterized the lymphoid structures of the murine small intestine in more detail. The size and cellular composition of small intestinal lymphoid aggregations were analyzed in C57BL/6 and BALB/c wild-type and lymphotoxin (LT)-deficient mice, by flow cytometry, histology and automated multi-color immunofluorescence microscopy evaluating large coherent areas of the intestine. These evaluations demonstrate that aggregated lymphoid structures in the small intestine vary in size and cellular composition, with a majority of structures not matching the current definitions of CP or ILF. Accordingly, significant variations depending on species, age and mouse strain were observed. Furthermore, small bowel transplantation revealed a rapid exchange of B but not T cells between host and grafted tissue. Moreover, LT-deficient animals lack any intestinal lymphoid aggregations yet possess the complete panel of intraepithelial lymphocytes (IEL). In summary, our observations disclose intestinal lymphoid aggregations as dynamic structures with a great deal of inborn plasticity and demonstrate their dispensability for the generation of IEL.