• autoimmunity;
  • rodent;
  • systemic lupus erythematosus;
  • T cells


Patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) display reduced numbers and functions of invariant natural killer T (iNK T) cells, which are restored upon treatment with corticosteroids and rituximab. It is unclear whether the iNK T cell insufficiency is a consequence of disease or is a primary abnormality that precedes the onset of disease. To address this, we analysed iNK T cell function at different stages of disease development using the genetically lupus-susceptible NZB × NZW F1 (BWF1) model. We found that iNK T cell in-vivo cytokine responses to an iNK T cell ligand α-galactosylceramide (α-GalCer) were lower in BWF1 mice than in non-autoimmune BALB/c and major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-matched NZB × N/B10.PL F1 mice, although iNK T cell numbers in the periphery were unchanged in BWF1 mice compared to control mice. Such iNK T cell hyporesponsiveness in BWF1 mice was detected at a young age long before the animals exhibited any sign of autoimmunity. In-vivo activation of iNK T cells is known to transactivate other immune cells. Such transactivated T and B cell activation markers and/or cytokine responses were also lower in BWF1 mice than in BALB/c controls. Finally, we show that iNK T cell responses were markedly deficient in the NZB parent but not in NZW parent of BWF1 mice, suggesting that BWF1 might inherit the iNK T cell defect from NZB mice. Thus, iNK T cells are functionally insufficient in lupus-prone BWF1 mice. Such iNK T cell insufficiency precedes the onset of disease and may play a pathogenic role during early stages of disease development in SLE.