Microfold cells (M cells), which are located in the follicle-associated epithelium (FAE) covering mucosal lymphoid follicles, are specialized epithelial cells that initiate mucosal immune responses. These cells take luminal antigens and transport them via transcytosis across the FAE to the antigen-presenting cells underneath. Several intestinal pathogens exploit M cells as their portal for entry to invade the host and cause disease conditions. Recent studies have revealed that the uptake of antigens by M cells is essential for efficient antigen-specific IgA production and that this process likely maintains the homeostasis of mucosal tissues. The present article reviews recent advances in understanding the molecular mechanism of M-cell differentiation and describes the molecules expressed by M cells that are associated with antigen uptake and/or the transcytosis process. Current efforts to augment M-cell-mediated uptake for use in the development of effective mucosal vaccines are also discussed.
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