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Nat Immunol. 2011 Oct 30;12(12):1202-11. doi: 10.1038/ni.2143.

Invariant natural killer T cells recognize lipid self antigen induced by microbial danger signals.

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


Invariant natural killer T cells (iNKT cells) have a prominent role during infection and other inflammatory processes, and these cells can be activated through their T cell antigen receptors by microbial lipid antigens. However, increasing evidence shows that they are also activated in situations in which foreign lipid antigens would not be present, which suggests a role for lipid self antigen. We found that an abundant endogenous lipid, β-D-glucopyranosylceramide (β-GlcCer), was a potent iNKT cell self antigen in mouse and human and that its activity depended on the composition of the N-acyl chain. Furthermore, β-GlcCer accumulated during infection and in response to Toll-like receptor agonists, contributing to iNKT cell activation. Thus, we propose that recognition of β-GlcCer by the invariant T cell antigen receptor translates innate danger signals into iNKT cell activation.

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