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J Exp Med. 1998 Oct 19;188(8):1521-8.

CD1d-mediated recognition of an alpha-galactosylceramide by natural killer T cells is highly conserved through mammalian evolution.

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La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology, San Diego, California 92121, USA.


Natural killer (NK) T cells are a lymphocyte subset with a distinct surface phenotype, an invariant T cell receptor (TCR), and reactivity to CD1. Here we show that mouse NK T cells can recognize human CD1d as well as mouse CD1, and human NK T cells also recognize both CD1 homologues. The unprecedented degree of conservation of this T cell recognition system suggests that it is fundamentally important. Mouse or human CD1 molecules can present the glycolipid alpha-galactosylceramide (alpha-GalCer) to NK T cells from either species. Human T cells, preselected for invariant Valpha24 TCR expression, uniformly recognize alpha-GalCer presented by either human CD1d or mouse CD1. In addition, culture of human peripheral blood cells with alpha-GalCer led to the dramatic expansion of NK T cells with an invariant (Valpha24(+)) TCR and the release of large amounts of cytokines. Because invariant Valpha14(+) and Valpha24(+) NK T cells have been implicated both in the control of autoimmune disease and the response to tumors, our data suggest that alpha-GalCer could be a useful agent for modulating human immune responses by activation of the highly conserved NK T cell subset.

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