The transcytosis of antigens across the follicle-associated epithelium (FAE) of Peyer's patches by microfold cells (M cells) is important for the induction of efficient immune responses to mucosal antigens. The mucosal immune response is compromised by ageing, but effects on M cells were unknown. We show that M-cell density in the FAE of aged mice was dramatically reduced. As a consequence, aged Peyer's patches were significantly deficient in their ability to transcytose particulate lumenal antigen across the FAE. Ageing specifically impaired the expression of Spi-B and the downstream functional maturation of M cells. Ageing also dramatically impaired C-C motif chemokine ligand 20 expression by the FAE. As a consequence, fewer B cells were attracted towards the FAE, potentially reducing their ability to promote M-cell maturation. Our study demonstrates that ageing dramatically impedes the functional maturation of M cells, revealing an important ageing-related defect in the mucosal immune system's ability to sample lumenal antigens.Mucosal Immunology advance online publication 30 January 2013. doi:10.1038/mi.2012.141.