As they differentiate, precursor cells from the gut-associated lymphoid tissue are known to travel via the lymphatic system to the blood and then preferentially to home to various mucosal and exocrine sites such as the lamina propria of the gut and the lactating mammary gland, where they give rise to IgA-secreting plasma cells. The present study, directed at the mechanism by which the circulating precursors of mucosal IgA plasma cells selectively lodge in characteristic locations, explored the hypothesis that such homing is due to a locally produced chemotactic factor and that milk might be a source of such a factor. Subsets of lymphocytes bearing particular surface markers and purified by panning from lymph nodes of mice were examined in a micropore chemotaxis assay to search for the presence of chemotactic activity in mouse milk. The globulin fraction of whey was shown to contain a nondialyzable factor that is chemotactic for IgA (and also IgG)-positive lymphocytes when these are obtained from mesenteric lymph nodes as a source of mucosal-associated lymphoid tissue. Lymphocytes from peripheral lymph nodes, nonmucosal associated, were unaffected as were surface IgM-positive lymphocytes and T lymphocytes obtained from mesenteric nodes. Chemotactic activity for IgA lymphocytes was undetectable in mouse serum. The data are consistent with the idea that precursors of mucosal IgA plasma cells home to mucosal and exocrine sites in response to a specific chemotactic factor elaborated by local differentiated epithelial cells.

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