Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE), including bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), are fatal neurodegenerative disorders in humans and animals. BSE appears to have spread to cattle through the consumption of feed contaminated with BSE/scrapie agents. In the case of an oral infection, the agents have to cross the gut-epithelial barrier. We recently established a bovine intestinal epithelial cell line (BIE cells) that can differentiate into the M cell type in vitro after lymphocytic stimulation (K. Miyazawa, T. Hondo, T. Kanaya, S. Tanaka, I. Takakura, W. Itani, M. T. Rose, H. Kitazawa, T. Yamaguchi, and H. Aso, Histochem. Cell Biol. 133:125-134, 2010). In this study, we evaluated the role of M cells in the intestinal invasion of the murine-adapted BSE (mBSE) agent using our in vitro bovine intestinal epithelial model. We demonstrate here that M cell-differentiated BIE cells are able to transport the mBSE agent without inactivation at least 30-fold more efficiently than undifferentiated BIE cells in our in vitro model. As M cells in the follicle-associated epithelium are known to have a high ability to transport a variety of macromolecules, viruses, and bacteria from gut lumen to mucosal immune cells, our results indicate the possibility that bovine M cells are able to deliver agents of TSE, not just the mBSE agent.
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