Researchers Discover M Cells in the Thymus: Implications for Immune System Development
It came as a surprise to Professor David Lo and his graduate student Diana Del Castillo when they were recently consulted by researchers in Israel for their expertise on specialized cells called Microfold cells, or M cells, which are mostly known for their presence in the intestinal epithelium.
Newly Discovered M Cells in the Thymus
Lo and Del Castillo confirmed the presence of M cells in the thymus, an organ that produces lymphocytes, white blood cells responsible for immune system function and protection against infection.
- M cells act as gatekeepers and play a key role in the development of the immune system.
- The Israeli researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science initiated a mouse study on thymic epithelium before consulting Lo.
“I have been working on these cells for several years, so when the Israeli team contacted me, I was intrigued. I learned this group had been doing studies on the cellular architecture of stromal cells in the thymus and, using a new advanced method, had discovered a population of cells much like the M cells we see in the gut and airways. In my own research, I had simply never thought to look for M cells in the thymus.” – Professor David Lo, University of California, Riverside
Location and Function of Thymic M Cells
The newly discovered M cells in the thymus have unique associations with different cell types and functions.
- They are limited to a specific region in the thymus and have different developmental origins compared to M cells in other parts of the body.
- M cells capture viruses and infectious agents in the gut and airways, handing them off to the immune system. Are thymic M cells performing a similar function?
Implications for Thymus and Immune System Development
The thymus is a tissue of interest to immunologists as it plays a crucial role in the development of the immune system.
- Thymic M cells are similar to M cells found in the gut and airways but have different developmental origins.
- Understanding thymic M cells could provide insights into the immune system’s development and how it protects against infection.
The discovery of M cells in the thymus opens up new avenues of research into the organ’s function and its role in shaping the immune response.
University of California – Riverside
Givony, T., et al. (2023). Thymic mimetic cells function beyond self-tolerance. Nature. doi.org/10.1038/s41586-023-06512-8.