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J Exp Med. 2010 Oct 25;207(11):2383-93. doi: 10.1084/jem.20101335. Epub 2010 Oct 4.

The Vα14 invariant natural killer T cell TCR forces microbial glycolipids and CD1d into a conserved binding mode.

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


Invariant natural killer T cells (iNKT cells) rapidly produce effector cytokines. In this study, we report the first crystal structures of the iNKT cell T cell receptor (TCR) bound to two natural, microbial glycolipids presented by CD1d. Binding of the TCR induced CDR3-α-dependent structural changes in the F' roof of CD1d; these changes resemble those occurring in the absence of TCR engagement when the highly potent synthetic antigen α-galactosylceramide (α-GalCer) binds CD1d. Furthermore, in the Borrelia burgdorferi α-galactosyl diacylglycerol-CD1d complex, TCR binding caused a marked repositioning of the galactose sugar into an orientation that closely resembles α-GalCer. The TCR-dependent reorientation of the sugar, together with the induced CD1d fit, may explain the weaker potency of the microbial antigens compared with α-GalCer. We propose that the TCR of iNKT cells binds with a conserved footprint onto CD1d, regardless of the bound glycolipid antigen, and that for microbial antigens this unique binding mode requires TCR-initiated conformational changes.

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