The morphology of epithelial lymphocytes in osmium-fixed, Epon-embedded jejunum of adult mice was studied by light and electron microscopy. Toluidine blue-stained 1 mum 'thick' plastic sections were compared with adjacent thin sections, thereby permitting precise ultrastructural identification and description of selected epithelial lymphocytes. Their size and appearances varied considerably, ranging from typical small lymphocytes through medium-sized lymphocytes to large immunoblasts. A high proportion of medium-sized epithelial lymphocytes (mean diameter 6-9 +/- 1-1 mum) contained several lysosomes, extensive Golgi complexes, prominent centrioles and abundant ribosomes. Their appearances, therefore, corresponded directly to mitogen-stimulated lymphocytes. In contrast, immunoblasts were big cells (mean diameter 11-0 +/- 0-8 mum) with large, euchromatic nuclei and prominent nucleoli. The majority had pale-staining, ribosome-studded cytoplasm and thus resembled type I, or T blasts. Very rarely, densely staining blasts containing ribosomes and well developed rough endoplasmic reticulum were observed; these corresponded to type II or B blasts. These observations indicate that transformation of lymphocytes occurs within the interepithelial cell spaces of the small intestinal mucosa, suggesting that epithelial lymphocytes are immunocompetent cells which may be responsive to local antigenic stimulation.
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