In the Peyer’s patches of the small intestine, specialized epithelial cells, the membranous (M) cells, sample antigenic matter from the gut lumen and bring it into contact with cells of the immune system, which are then capable of initiating specific immune reactions. Using autofluorescence 2-photon (A2P) microscopy, we imaged living intestinal mucosa at a 0.5-μm resolution. We identified individual M cells without the aid of a marker and in vivo analyzed their sampling function over hours. Time-lapse recordings revealed that lymphocytes associated with M cells display a remarkable degree of motility with average speed rates of 8.2 μm/min, to form new M cell–associated lymphocyte clusters within less than 15 min. The lymphocytes drastically deform the M cells’ cytoplasm and laterally move from one lymphocyte cluster to the next. This implies that the micro-compartment beneath M cells is a highly efficient container to bring potentially harmful antigens into contact with large numbers of immunocompetent cells. Our setup opens a new window for high-resolution 3D imaging of functional processes occurring in lymphoid and mucosal tissues.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Biomedical Engineering