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Immunology. 2017 Jan;150(1):45-54. doi: 10.1111/imm.12673. Epub 2016 Oct 26.

The role of mucosal-associated invariant T cells in infectious diseases.

Wong EB1,2,3, Ndung'u T1,4,5,6, Kasprowicz VO1,4,5.

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African Health Research Institute, Durban, South Africa.
Division of Infectious Diseases, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA.
Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.
HIV Pathogenesis Programme, Doris Duke Medical Research Institute, Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa.
The Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard, Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, MA, USA.
Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin, Germany.


Mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells are donor-unrestricted lymphocytes that are surprisingly abundant in humans, representing 1-10% of circulating T cells and further enriched in mucosal tissues. MAIT cells recognize and are activated by small molecule ligands produced by microbes and presented by MR1, a highly conserved MHC-related antigen-presenting protein that is ubiquitously expressed in human cells. Increasing evidence suggests that MAIT cells play a protective role in anti-bacterial immunity at mucosal interfaces. Some fungi are known to produce MAIT-activating ligands, but the role of MAIT cells in fungal infections has not yet been investigated. In viral infections, specifically HIV, which has received the most study, MAIT cell biology is clearly altered, but the mechanisms explaining these alterations and their clinical significance are not yet understood. Many questions remain unanswered about the potential of MAIT cells for protection or pathogenesis in infectious diseases. Because they interact with the universal, donor-unrestricted ligand-presenting MR1 molecule, MAIT cells may be attractive immunotherapy or vaccine targets. New tools, including the development of MR1-ligand tetramers and next-generation T-cell receptor sequencing, have the potential to accelerate MAIT cell research and lead to new insights into the role of this unique set of lymphocytes in infectious diseases.


bacterial; cytotoxic T lymphocytes; mucosa; viral

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