In vitro- and in vivo-polarised absorptive epithelia (enterocytes) are considered to be non-phagocytic towards bacteria with invasive pathogenic strains relying on virulence factors to ‘force’ entry. Here, we report a serendipitous discovery that questions these beliefs. Thus, we uncover in well-established models of human small (Caco-2; TC-7) and large (T84) intestinal enterocytes a polarization-dependent mechanism that can transfer millions of bacteria from the basal to apical compartment. Antibiotic-protection assays, confocal imaging and drug inhibitor data are consistent with a transcellular route in which internalized, basolateral-membrane enclosed bacteria are trafficked to and across the apical surface. Basal-to-apical transport of non-pathogenic bacteria (and inert beads) challenged the idea of pathogens relying on virulence factors to force entry. Indeed, studies with Salmonella demonstrated that it’s entry-forcing virulence factor (SPI-I) was not required to enter via the basolateral surface but to promote another virulence-associated event (intra-enterocyte accumulation).
Dean, P., Quitard, S., Bulmer, D. M., Roe, A. J., & Kenny, B. (2015). Cultured enterocytes internalise bacteria across their basolateral surface for, pathogen-inhibitable, trafficking to the apical compartment. Scientific Reports, 5(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/srep17359