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Curr Immunol Rev. 2012 Nov 1;8(4):287-296.

NKT Cell Subsets Can Exert Opposing Effects in Autoimmunity, Tumor Surveillance and Inflammation.

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Laboratory of Autoimmunity, Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, San Diego, CA 92121, USA.


The innate-like natural killer T (NKT) cells are essential regulators of immunity. These cells comprise at least two distinct subsets and recognize different lipid antigens presented by the MHC class I like molecules CD1d. The CD1d-dependent recognition pathway of NKT cells is highly conserved from mouse to humans. While most type I NKT cells can recognize αGalCer and express a semi-invariant T cell receptor (TCR), a major population of type II NKT cells reactive to sulfatide utilizes an oligoclonal TCR. Furthermore TCR recognition features of NKT subsets are also distinctive with almost parallel as opposed to perpendicular footprints on the CD1d molecules for the type I and type II NKT cells respectively. Here we present a view based upon the recent studies in different clinical and experimental settings that while type I NKT cells are more often pathogenic, they may also be regulatory. On the other hand, sulfatide-reactive type II NKT cells mostly play an inhibitory role in the control of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Since the activity and cytokine secretion profiles of NKT cell subsets can be modulated differently by lipid ligands or their analogs, novel immunotherapeutic strategies are being developed for their differential activation for potential intervention in inflammatory diseases.


CD1; NKT cells; Th1/Th17; cancer; glycolipids; sulfatide

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