The microfold (M) cell residing in the follicle-associated epithelium is a specialized epithelial cell that initiates mucosal immune responses by sampling luminal antigens. The differentiation process of M cells remains unclear due to limitations of analytical methods. Here we found that M cells were classified into two functionally different subtypes based on the expression of Glycoprotein 2 (GP2) by newly developed image cytometric analysis. GP2-high M cells actively took up luminal microbeads, whereas GP2-negative or low cells scarcely ingested them, even though both subsets equally expressed the other M-cell signature genes, suggesting that GP2-high M cells represent functionally mature M cells. Further, the GP2-high mature M cells were abundant in Peyer's patch but sparse in the cecal patch: this was most likely due to a decrease in the nuclear translocation of RelB, a downstream transcription factor for the receptor activator of nuclear factor-κB signaling. Given that murine cecum contains a protrusion of beneficial commensals, the restriction of M-cell activity might contribute to preventing the onset of any excessive immune response to the commensals through decelerating the M-cell-dependent uptake of microorganisms.
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