Endocytosis is a fundamental cell biological process, which carries out essential functions in a polarized epithelial cell such as enterocytes provided with a huge surface area of the brush border membrane. Major tasks of enterocytes, which are regulated by endocytic signals, are digestion and absorption of nutrients and drugs/pharmacological agents, barrier permeability to microorganism, toxins and antigens, and transcytotic crosstalk between intestinal lumen and lamina propria cells with access to the circulation.
Investigations on inflammatory bowel diseases such as food allergy, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis focus on immune processes originating within enterocytes as antigen presenting cells. Thus the initiation of oral tolerance, that is, the binding of food antigens to MHC class II proteins, might be localized within late endosomes of enterocytes. Furthermore, the late endosomal compartment of enterocytes seems to be involved in the processing of luminal antigens during the pathogenesis of celiac disease and inflammatory bowel diseases. Investigations of inherited diseases such as microvillus inclusion disease have revealed a pathogenetic defect in the autophagocytotic and/or recycling pathway of enterocytes.
Our progress in the cell and molecular biological understanding of the endocytosis and the methodical opportunities of translational research offer now new therapeutic options for patients suffering from endocytosis-related diseases of enterocytes.