Natural killer T cell

Natural killer T cell

Natural killer T (NKT) cells are a heterogeneous group of T cells that share properties of both T cells and natural killer cells. Many of these cells recognize the non-polymorphic CD1d molecule, an antigen-presenting molecule that binds self and foreign lipids and glycolipids. They constitute only approximately 0.1% of all peripheral blood T cells.[1] Natural killer T cells should not be confused with natural killer cells.


  • Nomenclature 1
  • Molecular characterization 2
  • Classification 3
  • iNKT cells 4
  • Function 5
  • Significance 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


The term “NK T cells” was first used in mice to define a subset of T cells that expressed the natural killer (NK) cell-associated marker NK1.1 (CD161). It is now generally accepted that the term “NKT cells” refers to CD1d-restricted T cells, present in mice and humans, some of which coexpress a heavily biased, semi-invariant T-cell receptor and NK cell markers.[2] Natural killer T (NKT) cells should not be confused with natural killer cells.

Molecular characterization

NKT cells are a subset of T cells that coexpress an αβ T-cell receptor, but also express a variety of molecular markers that are typically associated with NK cells, such as mycobacterium, which causes tuberculosis.

NKT cells include both NK1.1+ and NK1.1-, as well as CD4+, CD4-, CD8+ and CD8- cells. Natural killer T cells can share other features with NK cells, as well, such as CD16 and CD56 expression and granzyme production.[3][4]

Invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells express high levels of and are dependent on the transcriptional regulator promyelocytic leukemia zinc finger for their development.[5][6]


Classification of natural killer T cells into three groups has been proposed:[2]
Type 1 NKT Type 2 NKT NKT-like
Other names classical NKT
invariant NKT (iNKT)
Vα14i NKT (mouse)
Vα24i NKT (human)
non-classical NKT
diverse NKT
NK1.1+ T cells
CD3+ CD56+ T cells
Restriction CD1d CD1d MHC, other?
+ - -
T-cell-receptor repertoire Vα14-Jα18:
Vβ8.2, 7, 2 (mouse)
Vβ11 (human)
diverse diverse

iNKT cells

The best-known subset of CD1d-dependent NKT cells expresses an invariant T-cell receptor α chain. These are referred to as type I or invariant NKT cells (iNKT) cells. These cells are conserved between humans and mice and are implicated in many immunological processes. Absence of microbe exposure in early development led to increased iNKT cells and immune morbidity in a mouse model.[7]


Upon activation, NKT cells are able to produce large quantities of interferon-gamma, IL-4, and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor, as well as multiple other cytokines and chemokines (such as IL-2, Interleukin-13, Interleukin-17, Interleukin-21, and TNF-alpha).


NKT cells seem to be essential for several aspects of immunity because their dysfunction or deficiency has been shown to lead to the development of autoimmune diseases (such as diabetes or atherosclerosis) and cancers. NKT cells have recently been implicated in the disease progression of human asthma.[8]

The clinical potential of NKT cells lies in the rapid release of cytokines (such as IL-2, IFN-gamma, TNF-alpha, and IL-4) that promote or suppress different immune responses.

See also


  1. ^ Jerud, ES; Bricard G; Porcelli SA (2006). "Natural Killer T cells: Roles in Tumor Immunosurveillance and Tolerance". Transfus. Med. Hemother. 33 (1): 18–36.  
  2. ^ a b Godfrey, DI; MacDonald HR; Kronenberg M; Smyth MJ; Van Kaer L (2004). "NKT cells: what’s in a name?". Nat. Rev. Immunol. 4 (3): 231–7.  
  3. ^ Van der Vliet, HJ; Nishi N; Koezuka Y; Peyrat MA; Von Blomberg BM; Van den Eertwegh AJ; Pinedo HM; Giaccone G; Scheper RJ (1999). T cells"+ Vb11+"Effects of alphagalactosylceramide (KRN7000), interleukin-12 and interleukin-7 on phenotype and cytokine profile of human Va24. Immunology 98 (4): 557–563.  
  4. ^ Vivier, E; Anfossi N (2004). "Inhibitory NK-cell receptors on T cells. Witness of the past, actors of the future.". Nat Rev Immunol 4 (3): 190–198.  
  5. ^ Kovalovsky D, Uche OU, et al. (Sep 2008). "The BTB-zinc finger transcriptional regulator PLZF controls the development of invariant natural killer T cell effector functions.". Nature Immunology 9 (9): 1055–64.  
  6. ^ Savage AK, Constantinides MG, et al. (Sep 2008). "The transcription factor PLZF directs the effector program of the NKT cell lineage.". Immunity 29 (3): 391–403.  
  7. ^ Olszak, et al. (2012). "Microbial Exposure During Early Life Has Persistent Effects on Natural Killer T Cell Function". Science 336 (6080): 489–93.  
  8. ^ Cromie, William J. Researchers uncover cause of asthma Harvard University Gazette, March 16, 2006.

External links

  • NKT cell Journal Screening
  • Nature glossary on murine NKT cells
  • Nature Reviews Web Focus on regulatory lymphocytes