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J Immunol. 2011 Jan 15;186(2):838-47. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1001735. Epub 2010 Dec 10.

TCR-dependent and -independent activation underlie liver-specific regulation of NKT cells.

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Cancer and Inflammation Program, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Frederick, MD 21702, USA.


The fate of invariant NKT (iNKT) cells following activation remains controversial and unclear. We systemically examined how iNKT cells are regulated following TCR-dependent and -independent activation with α-galactosylceramide (αGC) or IL-18 plus IL-12, respectively. Our studies reveal activation by αGC or IL-18 plus IL-12 induced transient depletion of iNKT cells exclusively in the liver that was independent of caspase 3-mediated apoptosis. The loss of iNKT cells was followed by repopulation and expansion of phenotypically distinct cells via different mechanisms. Liver iNKT cell expansion following αGC, but not IL-18 plus IL-12, treatment required an intact spleen and IFN-γ. Additionally, IL-18 plus IL-12 induced a more prolonged expansion of liver iNKT cells compared with αGC. iNKT cells that repopulate the liver following αGC had higher levels of suppressive receptors PD-1 and Lag3, whereas those that repopulate the liver following IL-18 plus IL-12 had increased levels of TCR and ICOS. In contrast to acute treatment that caused a transient loss of iNKT cells, chronic αGC or IL-18 plus IL-12 treatment caused long-term systemic loss requiring an intact thymus for repopulation of the liver. This report reveals a previously undefined role for the liver in the depletion of activated iNKT cells. Additionally, TCR-dependent and -independent activation differentially regulate iNKT cell distribution and phenotype. These results provide new insights for understanding how iNKT cells are systemically regulated following activation.

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