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Keywords:

  • aphtoid lesion;
  • follicle-associated epithelium;
  • inflammatory bowel disease;
  • lymphoid follicle

Abstract: Clinical observations suggest that the sites of initial inflammation in ileal Crohn's disease (CD) are the lymphoid follicles, where the aphtoid lesions originate from small erosions of the follicle-associated epithelium (FAE). Lymphoid follicles and Peyer's patches (PPs) consist of a number of B-cell follicles with intervening T cell areas. The T cell follicular area is also populated by dendritic cells (DCs) and macrophages. A single layer of epithelial cells covering each follicle forms a dome between the surrounding villi. This FAE differs from normal villus epithelium in several ways that make the epithelial cells of the FAE more exposed to the luminal contents, more accessible to antigens, and in closer contact with the immune system. The most prominent feature is the presence of specialized M cells, which are optimized for antigen adherence and transport. M cells play an important role in the surveillance of the intestinal lumen, but also provide a route of entry for various pathogens. In this article we review the current knowledge on the epithelial phenotype of the human FAE, and changes of the FAE and M cells in intestinal inflammation, leading to a hypothesis of the role of the FAE and M cells in the pathogenesis of CD.