Previous studies have suggested that in vitro and in vivo immune responses are defective in Peyer's patch (PP) as a result of a deficiency in accessory cell number or function. However, we report here that enzymatic dissociation of PP does release a cell population with accessory activity in oxidative mitogenesis, i.e., the proliferation of periodate-modified T cells. The accessory activity present in PP is quantitatively similar to that of spleen. Accessory function is mediated by a cell type(s) that has the following characteristics: low buoyant density, lack of adherence to plastic or glass surfaces, lack of Fc receptors, and presence of surface Ia and the 33D1 dendritic cell (DC)-specific determinants. This PP accessory cell was markedly enriched by a novel technique. PP cells formed large aggregates when cultured for 16 h with irradiated, periodate-treated spleen cells. From the clusters we obtained a low density cell population that was 60% Ia positive, 33D1 positive, non-T and non-B, Fc receptor-negative, and dendritic in morphology. The DC-enriched populations were 60-80-fold enriched in accessory function relative to unfractionated PP. We can now compare PP accessory cells with accessory cells from other organs, and try to determine how PP dendritic cells contribute to the unique functions of this lymphoid organ.

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