Current Pathobiology Reports

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 35–46 | Cite as

Policing the Intestinal Epithelial Barrier: Innate Immune Functions of Intraepithelial Lymphocytes

  • Madeleine D. Hu
  • Luo Jia
  • Karen L. Edelblum
Microbiome and Tissue Homeostasis (AS Neish and R Jones, Section Editors)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Microbiome and Tissue Homeostasis


Purpose of Review

This review will explore the contribution of intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs) to mucosal innate immunity and highlight the similarities in IEL functional responses to bacteria, viruses, and protozoan parasite invasion.

Recent Findings

IELs rapidly respond to microbial invasion by activating host defense responses, including the production of mucus and antimicrobial peptides to prevent microbes from reaching the epithelial surface. During active infection, IELs promote epithelial cytolysis, cytokine and chemokine production to limit pathogen invasion, replication, and dissemination. Commensal-induced priming of IEL effector function or continuous surveillance of the epithelium may be important contributing factors to the rapidity of response.


Impaired microbial recognition, dysregulated innate immune signaling, or microbial dysbiosis may limit the protective function of IELs and increase susceptibility to disease. Further understanding of the mechanisms regulating IEL surveillance and sentinel function may provide insight into the development of more effective targeted therapies designed to reinforce the mucosal barrier.


Intraepithelial lymphocytes Mucosal immunity Intestine Microbiota Virus Pathogen 



This work is supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health K01 DK093627, R03 DK106484, and the Feldstein Medical Foundation (KLE). The authors would like to thank Dr. George Yap for his critical review of the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Madeleine Hu, Luo Jia, and Karen Edelblum declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Immunity and Inflammation, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Rutgers New Jersey Medical SchoolNewarkUSA

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