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Gastroenterology. 2000 Jul;119(1):119-28.

Activation of natural killer T cells by alpha-galactosylceramide in the presence of CD1d provides protection against colitis in mice.

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Division of Gastroenterology and the Harvard Digestive Diseases Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.



CD1d is a major histocompatibility complex class I-like molecule that presents glycolipid antigens to a subset of natural killer (NK)1.1(+) T cells. These NK T cells exhibit important immunoregulatory functions in several autoimmune disease models.


To investigate whether CD1d and NK T cells have a similar role in intestinal inflammation, the effects of the glycolipid, alpha-galactosylceramide (alpha-GalCer), on dextran sodium sulfate (DSS)-induced colitis were examined. Wild-type (WT), CD1d(-/-), and RAG(-/-) mice were examined for their response to either alpha-GalCer or the control analogue, alpha-mannosylceramide (alpha-ManCer).


WT mice, but not CD1d(-/-) and RAG(-/-) mice, receiving alpha-GalCer had a significant improvement in DSS-induced colitis based on body weight, bleeding, diarrhea, and survival when compared with those receiving alpha-ManCer. Elimination of NK T cells through antibody-mediated depletion resulted in a reduction of the effect of alpha-GalCer. Furthermore, adoptive transfer of NK T cells preactivated by alpha-GalCer, but not alpha-ManCer, resulted in diminished colitis. Using a fluorescent-labeled analogue of alpha-GalCer, confocal microscopy localized alpha-GalCer to the colonic surface epithelium of WT but not CD1d(-/-) mice, indicating alpha-GalCer binds CD1d in the intestinal epithelium and may be functionally active at this site.


These results show an important functional role for NK T cells, activated by alpha-GalCer in a CD1d-restricted manner, in regulating intestinal inflammation.

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