Human intraepithelial lymphocytes : a comparative study of phenotype, morphology, and functional properties of intraepithelial lymphocytes in gut and oral mucosa

Abstract: Human intraepithelial lymphocytes (IEL) constitute a unique cell population situated in the first line of defense of the alimentary tract. Here they are continuously exposed to a massive antigenic load of high complexity. However, different conditions prevail along the alimentary tract. In small intestine food antigens dominate whereas bacterial antigens are abundant in large intestine. The oral cavity is exposed to an enormous variety of antigens from the microflora as well as food constituents. The abundance and selective localization of lymphocytes in the surface epithelium of these challenged tissues implicate important roles for IEL in immune protection.IEL in normal human jejunum, ileum and colon as well as in normal and chronically inflamed gingiva were studied in situ and after isolation, with regard to phenotype, ultrastructure, cytokine mRNA expression and response to T-cell mitogens. Furthermore, an isolation technique was developed which yielded highly purified, functionally active IEL and enterocytes from the same sample.Intestinal IEL were situated in the basal part of the epithelium, often in small clusters and in close contact with adjacent lymphocytes and epithelial cells. They had an irregular shape with long processes and some had pseudopodium-like extensions penetrating the basement membrane. This indicates cell co-operation within the epithelium, as well as transmigration of IEL to underlying tissues. Freshly isolated IEL expressed several cytokines (IL-1β, IL-8, IL-2, TNF-α and IFN-γ) and in vitro activation induced expression of IL-2, IL-10, IFN-γ, TNF-α, TNF-β and TGF-β1, suggesting that IEL are involved in cell mediated cytotoxicity and suppressor cell activities.γδ T cells showed preferential homing to the epithelium both in gingiva and in intestine. They constituted the major lymphocyte population in normal gingiva and on average 30% of IEL at all levels of the intestine. Gingival as well as intestinal γδ IEL showed preferential usage of Vδ1Vγ8, suggesting common reactivity patterns along the alimentary tract. Intestinal γδ IEL and γδ IEL in normal gingiva were CD4-CD8-. In contrast, γδ IEL in chronically inflamed gingiva were predominantly CD8+ and showed induced expression of CD45RO. This indicates that γδ IEL participate in anti-bacterial immune responses in mucosa. Intestinal and gingival γδ IEL displayed ultrastructural features of cytolytic effector cells, e.g. electron-dense cytoplasmic granules and multivesicular bodies. They also expressed cytokines indicative of cell mediated-cytolytic effector functions. γδ IEL from inflamed gingiva expressed IFN-γ, TNF-α, TGF-β1 and IL-6 mRNA while intestinal γδ IEL expressed IL-2, IFN-γ and TNF-α.Intraepithelial αβ T cells were rare in gingiva while they constituted the major population of intestinal IEL. The phenotype of αβ IEL varied at different levels of the intestine. Thus, CD8+αβ IEL dominated in jejunum while cells with the unusual T-cell phenotype, CD4-CD8- TCR αβ+, constituted a major population of colonic IEL. CD4+ αβ IEL were equally represented, as a minor population, at all three levels of the gut. Intestinal αβ IEL had the same cytokine profile as γδ IEL. Taken together, these data suggest that αβ IEL are involved in immunoregulatory responses to luminal antigens.IEL with thymocyte-like phenotyped (CD2+TCR/CD3-, CD1+TCR/CD3-, CD1+TCRαβ+ and CD1+TCRγδ+) were present in jejunal epithelium. Furthermore, recombination activating gene-1 (RAG-1) mRNA was expressed in CD2+TCR/CD3- and CD3+/TCR- jejunal IEL. RAG-1 was not expressed in colonic IEL. Thus, the epithelium of small intestine is a site for extrathymic T cell maturation in humans.

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