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Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2005 Jul;37(7):1337-43. Epub 2005 Jan 8.

Natural killer T cells: rapid responders controlling immunity and disease.

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Immunology Research Laboratories and Department of Veterinary Science, The Pennsylvania State University, 115 Henning Building, University Park, PA 16802, USA.


Natural killer T (NKT) cells are a subset of T cells that share properties of natural killer cells and conventional T cells. They are involved in immediate immune responses, tumor rejection, immune surveillance and control of autoimmune diseases. Most NKT cells express both an invariant T cell antigen receptor and the NK cell receptor NK1.1, and are referred to as invariant NKT cells. This invariant T cell receptor is restricted to interactions with glycolipids presented by the non-classical MHC, CD1d. These NKT cells rapidly produce high levels of interleukin (IL)-2, IFN-gamma, TNF-alpha, and IL-4 upon stimulation through their TCR. Most also have cytotoxic activity similar to NK cells. NKT cells are involved in a number of pathological conditions, and have been shown to regulate viral infections in vivo, and control tumor growth. They may also play both protective and harmful roles in the progression of certain autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes, lupus, atherosclerosis, and allergen-induced asthma.

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