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Chem Biol. 2008 Jul 21;15(7):654-64. doi: 10.1016/j.chembiol.2008.05.012.

Natural Sphingomonas glycolipids vary greatly in their ability to activate natural killer T cells.

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  • 1Division of Developmental Immunology, La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


Mouse natural killer T (NKT) cells expressing an invariant T cell antigen receptor (TCR) recognize glycosphingolipids (GSLs) from Sphingomonas bacteria. The synthetic antigens previously tested, however, were designed to closely resemble the potent synthetic agonist alpha-galactosyl ceramide (alphaGalCer), which contains a monosaccharide and a C18:0 sphingosine lipid. Some Sphingomonas bacteria, however, also have oligosaccharide-containing GSLs, and they normally synthesize several GSLs with different sphingosine chains including one with a cyclopropyl ring-containing C21:0 (C21cycl) sphingosine. Here we studied the stimulation of NKT cells with synthetic GSL antigens containing natural tetrasaccharide sugars, or the C21cycl sphingosine. Our results indicate that there is a great degree of variability in the antigenic potency of different natural Sphingomonas glycolipids, with the C21cycl sphingosine having intermediate potency and the oligosaccharide-containing antigens exhibiting limited or no stimulatory capacity.

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