Mucosal surfaces are continuously exposed to the external environment and therefore represent the largest lymphoid organ of the body. In the mucosal immune system, gut-associated lymphoid tissues (GALTs), including Peyer's patches and isolated lymphoid follicles, play an important role in the induction of antigen-specific immune responses in the gut. GALTs have unique organogenesis characteristics and interact with the network of dendritic cells and T cells for the simultaneous induction and regulation of IgA responses and oral tolerance. In these lymphoid tissues, antigens are up taken by M cells in the epithelial layer, and antigen-specific immune responses are subsequently initiated by GALT cells. Nasopharynx- and tear-duct-associated lymphoid tissues (NALTs and TALTs) are key organized lymphoid structures in the respiratory tract and ocular cavities, respectively, and have been shown to interact with each other. Mucosal surfaces are also characterized by host-microbe interactions that affect the genesis and maturation of mucosa-associated lymphoid tissues and the induction and regulation of innate and acquired mucosal immune responses. Because most harmful pathogens enter the body through mucosal surfaces by ingestion, inhalation, or sexual contact, the mucosa is a candidate site for vaccination. Mucosal vaccination has some physiological and practical advantages, such as decreased costs and reduced risk of needle-stick injuries and transmission of bloodborne diseases, and it is painless. Recently, the application of modern bioengineering and biochemical engineering technologies, including gene transformation and manipulation systems, resulted in the development of systems to express vaccine antigens in transgenic plants and nanogels, which will usher in a new era of delivery systems for mucosal vaccine antigens. In this review, based on some of our research group's thirty seven years of progress and effort, we highlight the unique features of mucosal immune systems and the application of mucosal immunity to the development of a new generation of vaccines.
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