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Nat Immunol. 2005 Aug;6(8):810-8. Epub 2005 Jul 10.

Structure and function of a potent agonist for the semi-invariant natural killer T cell receptor.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology and The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California 92037, USA.


Natural killer T cells express a conserved, semi-invariant alphabeta T cell receptor that has specificity for self glycosphingolipids and microbial cell wall alpha-glycuronosylceramide antigens presented by CD1d molecules. Here we report the crystal structure of CD1d in complex with a short-chain synthetic variant of alpha-galactosylceramide at a resolution of 2.2 A. This structure elucidates the basis for the high specificity of these microbial ligands and explains the restriction of the alpha-linkage as a unique pathogen-specific pattern-recognition motif. Comparison of the binding of altered lipid ligands to CD1d and T cell receptors suggested that the differential T helper type 1-like and T helper type 2-like properties of natural killer T cells may originate largely from differences in their 'loading' in different cell types and hence in their tissue distribution in vivo.

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