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J Immunol. 2003 Aug 15;171(4):1961-8.

An anti-inflammatory role for V alpha 14 NK T cells in Mycobacterium bovis bacillus Calmette-Guérin-infected mice.

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Department of Biopathology, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy.


The possible contribution of NKT cells to resistance to Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection remains unclear. In this paper we characterized the Valpha14 NKT cell population following infection with Mycobacterium bovis bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG). BCG infection determined an early expansion of Valpha14 NKT cells in liver, lungs, and spleen, which peaked on day 8 and was sustained until day 30. However, an NK1.1(+) Valpha14 NKT population preferentially producing IFN-gamma predominated at an early stage (day 8), which was substituted by an NK1.1(-) population preferentially producing IL-4 at later stages (day 30). Despite the fact that Valpha14 NKT cell-deficient mice eliminated BCG as did control mice, they had significantly higher numbers of granulomas in liver and lungs. Additionally, while control mice developed organized small granulomas, those in Valpha14 NKT-deficient mice had signs of caseation, large cellular infiltrates, and some multinucleated macrophages, suggesting that Valpha14 NKT cells may actually work as anti-inflammatory cells by limiting excessive lymphocyte influx and tissue pathology. In agreement, we found an increased spontaneous production and mRNA expression of TNF-alpha in liver and lungs of Valpha14 NKT-deficient mice, whose neutralization in vivo by anti-TNF-alpha mAbs consistently reduced the number of granulomas in liver and lungs. Together, our results support a regulatory role for Valpha14 NKT cells in the course of BCG infection through their ability to limit the extent of inflammatory response and point to an important role for this cell subset as a regulator of the balance between protective responses and immunopathology.

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