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Nat Immunol. 2011 Nov 27;13(1):35-43. doi: 10.1038/ni.2166.

Identification of Bcl-6-dependent follicular helper NKT cells that provide cognate help for B cell responses.

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Department of Pathogens and Immunity, John Curtin School of Medical Research, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.


Lipid antigens trigger help from natural killer T cells (NKT cells) for B cells, and direct conjugation of lipid agonists to antigen profoundly augments antibody responses. Here we show that in vivo, NKT cells engaged in stable and prolonged cognate interactions with B cells and induced the formation of early germinal centers. Mouse and human NKT cells formed CXCR5(+)PD-1(hi) follicular helper NKT cells (NKT(FH) cells), and this process required expression of the transcriptional repressor Bcl-6, signaling via the coreceptor CD28 and interaction with B cells. NKT(FH) cells provided direct cognate help to antigen-specific B cells that was dependent on interleukin 21 (IL-21). Unlike T cell-dependent germinal centers, those driven by NKT(FH) cells did not generate long-lived plasma cells. Our results demonstrate the existence of a Bcl-6-dependent subset of NKT cells specialized in providing help to B cells.

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