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J Exp Med. 2000 Jun 5;191(11):1895-903.

In vivo identification of glycolipid antigen-specific T cells using fluorescent CD1d tetramers.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University, NJ 08544, USA.


The CD1 family of major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-like molecules specializes in presenting lipid and glycolipid antigens to alpha/beta T lymphocytes, but little is known about the size of the CD1-restricted T cell population or the frequency of T lymphocytes specific for a given glycolipid antigen. Here, we report the generation and use of mouse CD1d1-glycolipid tetramers to visualize CD1d-restricted T cells. In contrast with previous BIAcore-based estimates of very short half-lives for CD1d-glycolipid complexes, we found that the dissociation rate of several different CD1d-glycolipid complexes was very slow. Fluorescent tetramers of mouse CD1d1 complexed with alpha-galactosylceramide (alphaGalCer), the antigen recognized by mouse Valpha14-Jalpha281/Vbeta8 and human Valpha24-JalphaQ/Vbeta11 natural killer T (NKT) cell T cell receptors (TCRs), allowed us for the first time to accurately describe, based on TCR specificity, the entire population of NKT cells in vivo and to identify a previously unrecognized population of NK1.1-negative "NKT" cells, which expressed a different pattern of integrins. In contrast, natural killer (NK) cells failed to bind the tetramers either empty or loaded with alphaGalCer, suggesting the absence of a CD1d-specific, antigen-nonspecific NK receptor. Mouse CD1d1-alphaGalCer tetramers also stained human NKT cells, indicating that they will be useful for probing a range of mouse and human conditions such as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, tumor rejection, and infectious diseases where NKT cells play an important role.

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