M cells act like "conveyor belts," ingesting bacteria and transporting substances from the gut into Peyer's patches, specialized tissues resembling lymph nodes in the intestines. Better knowledge of M cells' properties could aid research on oral vaccines and inflammatory bowel diseases.
A team of researchers at Emory University School of Medicine and RIKEN Research Center for Allergy and Immunology in Japan has identified the gene Spi-B as responsible for the differentiation of M cells.
The results are published Sunday, June 17 in the journal Nature Immunology.
"This discovery could really unlock a lot of information about the sequence of events needed for M cells to develop and what makes them distinctive," says co-author Ifor Williams, MD, PhD, associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Emory University School of Medicine. "M cells have been difficult to study because they are relatively rare, they are only found within the Peyer's patches and can't be grown in isolation."