Abstract:Intestinal epithelial cells are multi-tasked cells that participate in digestion and absorption as well as in protection of the digestive tract. While information on the physiology and immune functions of intestinal epithelial cells in mammals is abundant, little is known of their immune function in birds and other species. Our main objectives were to study the development of anti-bacterial innate immune functions in the rapidly developing gut of the pre- and post-hatch chick and to determine the functional diversity of epithelial cells. After establishing primary intestinal epithelial cell cultures, we demonstrated their capacity to uptake and process bacteria. The response to bacterial products, LPS and LTA, induced expression of pro-inflammatory cytokine genes (IL-6, IL-18) as well as the expression of the acute phase proteins avidin, lysozyme and the secretory component derived from the polymeric immunoglobulin receptor. These proteins were then localized in gut sections, and the goblet cell was shown to store avidin, lysozyme as well as secretory component. Lysozyme staining was also located in a novel rod-shaped intestinal cell, situated at different loci along the villus, thus deviating from the classical Paneth cell in the mammal, that is restricted to crypts. Thus, in the chicken, the intestinal epithelium, and particularly goblet cells, are committed to innate immune protection. The unique role of the goblet cell in chicken intestinal immunity, as well as the unique distribution of lysozyme-positive cells highlight alternative solutions of gut protection in the bird.