Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Symposium on ‘Dietary influences on mucosal immunity’

How dietary antigens access the mucosal immune system

M. Heymana1 c1

a1 INSERM E9925, Faculté Necker, 156 rue de Vaugirard, 75730 Paris, France


The intestinal epithelium is a selective barrier where incompletely-digested food antigens are transmitted to the immune system. Food antigens are often the starting point of intestinal diseases such as food allergy or coeliac disease. The intestinal epithelial cells (IEC) take up and process food antigens mainly by fluid-phase transcytosis involving two functional pathways, one minor direct pathway without degradation and another major lysosomal degradative pathway. Among the peptidic metabolites generated during transepithelial transport of luminal antigens, some have a molecular mass compatible with a binding to restriction (major histocompatibility complex; MHC) molecules; the latter can be up regulated on enterocytes, especially in inflammatory conditions. Indeed, interferon-γ not only increases the paracellular absorption of antigens, but also their transcytosis across epithelial cells. It has been reported that enterocytes may even directly present peptidic epitopes to underlying T-cells. As a new potential way of transmitting peptidic information to the local or systemic immune system, the secretion by IEC of antigen-presenting vesicles called exosomes and bearing MHC–peptide complexes has recently been proposed. Many other factors such as nutritional or environmental factors can also influence the properties of the epithelial barrier and the outcome of the immune response to lumen antigens.


c1 Corresponding Author: Dr M. Heyman, fax +33 1 40 61 56 38, email