, Volume 436, Issue 6, pp 560-566

Evidence of M cells as portals of entry for antigens in the nasopharyngeal lymphoid tissue of humans

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Abstract 

The nasopharyngeal tonsils (adenoids) are prominent components of human nasal-associated lymphoid tissues (NALT). However, the role of the nasopharyngeal tonsils in antigen uptake for initiation of the mucosal immune response is unknown. The aims of this study were to describe the ultrastructure and function of the M cells of the human nasopharyngeal tonsils and to clarify their capacity for antigen uptake. Tissues obtained from eight patients undergoing adenectomy were examined by light and electron microscopy. Lymphoepithelium covers the nasopharyngeal lymphoid tissue and consists of ciliary epithelium, non-ciliary epithelial cells, M cells, goblet cells, and many intraepithelial lymphoid cells. M cells have irregular and broad cytoplasm-containing microvilli on their surface and small vesicles in their cytoplasm. Many lymphoid cells were enfolded by M cells. The uptake of horseradish peroxidase (HRP) in the tissue in organ culture was studied using histochemical techniques. Excised adenoid tissue was incubated in RPMI 1640 culture media with HRP for 10, 30, and 60 min. HRP which had adhered to the surface was taken up in vesicles and then transported in vesicles and tubules by M cells. The M cells of nasopharyngeal lymphoid tissue were ultrastructurally and functionally similar to those in human Peyer’s patches and colonic lymphoid follicles. These findings indicate that NALT bears similarities to the gut-associated lymphoid tissue, and its antigen uptake capacity may be important for initiation of immunity in the upper aerodigestive tract.

Received: 8 July 1999 / Accepted: 17 December 1999