[Frontiers in Bioscience S3, 236-251, January 1, 2011]

Natural killer T cells in health and disease

Lan Wu, Luc Van Kaer

Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Room A-5301, Medical Center North, 1161 21st Avenue South, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee 37232-2363, USA


1. Abstract
2. Introduction
3. Development and maintenance of NKT cells
4. NKT cell activation
5. NKT cell effector functions
6. NKT cell functions
7. NKT cell-based vaccine adjuvants
8. NKT cell-based immunotherapies
9. Summary and perspective
10. Acknowledgements
11. References


Natural killer T (NKT) cells are a subset of T lymphocytes that share surface markers and functional characteristics with both conventional T lymphocytes and natural killer cells. Most NKT cells express a semi-invariant T cell receptor that reacts with glycolipid antigens presented by the major histocompatibility complex class I-related protein CD1d on the surface of antigen-presenting cells. NKT cells become activated during a variety of infections and inflammatory conditions, rapidly producing large amounts of immunomodulatory cytokines. NKT cells can influence the activation state and functional properties of multiple other cell types in the immune system and, thus, modulate immune responses against infectious agents, autoantigens, tumors, tissue grafts and allergens. One attractive aspect of NKT cells is that their immunomodulatory activities can be readily harnessed with cognate glycolipid antigens, such as the marine sponge-derived glycosphingolipid alpha-galactosylceramide. These properties of NKT cells are being exploited for therapeutic intervention to prevent or treat cancer, infections, and autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.