Intraepithelial lymphocytes (IEL) are found in both the small and the large intestine. We demonstrate that there are a number of striking phenotypic and functional differences between the two populations of IEL isolated from mice. In the large intestine, the majority of IEL express the alpha beta TCR, and among these TCR-alpha beta+ lymphocytes, CD4+ cells are as prevalent as CD8+ cells. In contrast, in the small intestine, most of the TCR-alpha beta+ IEL express CD8, and an increased percentage of cells express TCR-gamma delta. In addition, most TCR-gamma delta+ IEL isolated from the large intestine (LI-IEL) are CD4- CD8- cells, as compared to TCR-gamma delta+ IEL isolated from the small intestine (SI-IEL), which are predominantly CD8+. Furthermore, CD2 and the lymph node homing receptor, L-selectin, are expressed by most LI-IEL but not by SI-IEL. Furthermore, LI-IEL have much less cytolytic activity than SI-IEL. These data suggest that LI-IEL are a distinct population of lymphocytes that may have a different immunologic role than that of SI-IEL.

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