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Semin Immunol. 2013 Apr;25(2):146-51. doi: 10.1016/j.smim.2013.05.005. Epub 2013 Jun 10.

Carbohydrates and T cells: a sweet twosome.

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Division of Immunology, Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Carbohydrates as T cell-activating antigens have been generating significant interest. For many years, carbohydrates were thought of as T-independent antigens, however, more recent research had demonstrated that mono- or oligosaccharides glycosidically linked to peptides can be recognized by T cells. T cell recognition of these glycopeptides depends on the structure of both peptide and glycan portions of the antigen. Subsequently, it was discovered that natural killer T cells recognized glycolipids when presented by the antigen presenting molecule CD1d. A transformative insight into glycan-recognition by T cells occurred when zwitterionic polysaccharides were discovered to bind to and be presented by MHCII to CD4+ T cells. Based on this latter observation, the role that carbohydrate epitopes generated from glycoconjugate vaccines had in activating helper T cells was explored and it was found that these epitopes are presented to specific carbohydrate recognizing T cells through a unique mechanism. Here we review the key interactions between carbohydrate antigens and the adaptive immune system at the molecular, cellular and systems levels exploring the significant biological implications in health and disease.


APCs; Antigen presentation; B-cell receptor; BCR; CPSs; DCs; GBSIII; Glycoconjugate vaccine; Glycolipid; Glycopeptide; IBD; IFN-γ; IL; MHCII; OVA; PSA; RNSs; T cell; T cells that recognize carbohydrates only; T-cell receptor; TCR; TT; Tcarbs; ZPSs; Zwitterionic polysaccharide; antigen-presenting cells; capsular polysaccharides; dendritic cells; iNKT; iNOS; inducible nitric oxide synthase; inflammatory bowel disease; interferon γ; interleukin; invariant natural-killer T; major histocompatibility class II; ovalbumin; polysaccharide A; reactive nitrogen species; tetanus toxoid; type III polysaccharide of group B Streptococcus; zwitterionic polysaccharides; α-GalCer; α-galactosylceramide.

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