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Interaction of microorganisms, epithelium, and lymphoid cells of the mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue.

Differentiation of specific epithelial cell lineages during development, as well as epithelial plasticity in response to heterologous cell-to-cell cross talk during adult life, accounts for the large variety of functions which are performed by the mucosal surfaces found in the human body. Among its functions, the digestive mucosa is able to sample antigens and microorganisms through M cells of Peyer's patches' follicle-associated epithelium, in order to trigger the development of either tolerance or immune responses. At least in the gut, M-cell formation is immunoregulated. Close contact between immune cells and intestinal epithelium modifies the permeability of the epithelial barrier by inducing the conversion of enterocytes into M cells, offering at the same time an opportunistic way of invasion for pathogens. These lympho-epithelial interactions triggering M-cell formation have now been modeled in culture.

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