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Keywords:

  • AIDS;
  • antigen presentation;
  • CD expression;
  • enterocyte;
  • GECA;
  • IEL

Epithelial cells of the intestine seem to act as antigen-presenting cells to surrounding lymphoid tissue and may be crucial to maintain the pool of peripheral T lymphocytes. The scope of this study was to carry out an immunophenotypic and ultramicroscopic analysis of purified human enterocytes to elucidate their role as antigen-presenting cells, in the immune responses in the gut-associated lymphoid tissue. A method has been developed to obtain purified and viable human enterocyte populations, later labeled with relevant monoclonal antibodies directed to leukocyte antigens and subjected to cytofluorometric analysis. Phenotypic analysis revealed the presence of markers common to “classical” antigen-presenting cells (CD14, CD35, CD39, CD43, CD63 and CD64), reinforcing the idea that enterocytes may act as such. Moreover, several integrins (CD11b, CD11c, CD18, CD41a, CD61 and CD29) were also found. CD25 (IL-2 receptor a chain) and CD28, characteristic of T cells, were detected on the surface of these cells; this latter finding rises the possibility that enterocytes could be activated by IL-2 and/or via CD28 through binding to its ligands CD80 or CD86. Finally, the presence of CD21, CD32, CD35 and CD64 that may bind immune complexes via Fc or C3, suggests their participation in the metabolism of immune complexes. Furthermore, the finding of a Birbeck'slike granule in the cytoplasm of the cells, shows that enterocytes contain an ultramicroscopic feature previously thought to be characteristic of Langerhans' cells, an antigen-presenting cell. The phenotype detected on the surface of enterocytes, along with their ultramicroscopic characteristics, suggests that they may play an important role in the immune responses elicited in the gut, presenting antigens to surrounding lymphoid cells, and establishing cognate interactions with them.