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J Immunol. 2007 Nov 15;179(10):6630-7.

Peripheral NK1.1 NKT cells are mature and functionally distinct from their thymic counterparts.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia.


One interesting aspect of NKT cell development is that although they are thymus dependent, the pivotal transition from NK1.1(-) to NK1.1(+) can often take place after immature NK1.1(-) NKT cells are exported to the periphery. NK1.1(-) NKT cells in general are regarded as immature precursors of NK1.1(+) NKT cells, meaning that peripheral NK1.1(-) NKT cells are regarded as a transient, semimature population of recent thymic emigrant NKT cells. In this study, we report the unexpected finding that most NK1.1(-) NKT cells in the periphery of naive mice are actually part of a stable, mature and functionally distinct NKT cell population. Using adult thymectomy, we show that the size of the peripheral NK1.1(-) NKT cell pool is maintained independently of thymic export and is not the result of NK1.1 down-regulation by mature cells. We also demonstrate that most peripheral NK1.1(-) NKT cells are functionally distinct from their immature thymic counterparts, and from NK1.1(+) NKT cells in the periphery. We conclude that the vast majority of peripheral NK1.1(-) NKT cells are part of a previously unrecognized, mature NKT cell subset.

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