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Immunogenetics. 2016 Aug;68(8):639-48. doi: 10.1007/s00251-016-0933-y. Epub 2016 Jul 1.

Invariant natural killer T cells: front line fighters in the war against pathogenic microbes.

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La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, 9420 Athena Circle, La Jolla, CA, 92037, USA.
La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, 9420 Athena Circle, La Jolla, CA, 92037, USA.
Division of Biological Sciences, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, 92037, USA.


Invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells constitute a unique subset of innate-like T cells that have been shown to have crucial roles in a variety of immune responses. iNKT cells are characterized by their expression of both NK cell markers and an invariant T cell receptor (TCR) α chain, which recognizes glycolipids presented by the MHC class I-like molecule CD1d. Despite having a limited antigen repertoire, the iNKT cell response can be very complex, and participate in both protective and harmful immune responses. The protective role of these cells against a variety of pathogens has been particularly well documented. Through the use of these pathogen models, our knowledge of the breadth of the iNKT cell response has been expanded. Specific iNKT cell antigens have been isolated from several different bacteria, from which iNKT cells are critical for protection in mouse models. These responses can be generated by direct, CD1d-mediated activation, or indirect, cytokine-mediated activation, or a combination of the two. This can lead to secretion of a variety of different Th1, Th2, or Th17 cytokines, which differentially impact the downstream immune response against these pathogens. This critical role is emphasized by the conservation of these cells between mice and humans, warranting further investigation into how iNKT cells participate in protective immune responses, with the ultimate goal of harnessing their potential for treatment.


Bacterial infections; CD1d; Innate-like lymphocytes; iNKT

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