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PLoS Pathog. 2008 Dec;4(12):e1000239. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1000239. Epub 2008 Dec 12.

Innate invariant NKT cells recognize Mycobacterium tuberculosis-infected macrophages, produce interferon-gamma, and kill intracellular bacteria.

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Division of Rheumatology, Immunology, and Allergy, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.


Cellular immunity to Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) requires a coordinated response between the innate and adaptive arms of the immune system, resulting in a type 1 cytokine response, which is associated with control of infection. The contribution of innate lymphocytes to immunity against Mtb remains controversial. We established an in vitro system to study this question. Interferon-gamma is produced when splenocytes from uninfected mice are cultured with Mtb-infected macrophages, and, under these conditions, bacterial replication is suppressed. This innate control of bacterial replication is dependent on CD1d-restricted invariant NKT (iNKT) cells, and their activation requires CD1d expression by infected macrophages as well as IL-12 and IL-18. We show that iNKT cells, even in limiting quantities, are sufficient to restrict Mtb replication. To determine whether iNKT cells contribute to host defense against tuberculosis in vivo, we adoptively transferred iNKT cells into mice. Primary splenic iNKT cells obtained from uninfected mice significantly reduce the bacterial burden in the lungs of mice infected with virulent Mtb by the aerosol route. Thus, iNKT cells have a direct bactericidal effect, even in the absence of synthetic ligands such as alpha-galactosylceramide. Our finding that iNKT cells protect mice against aerosol Mtb infection is the first evidence that CD1d-restricted NKT cells mediate protection against Mtb in vivo.

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