Therapeutic manipulation of natural killer (NK) T cells in autoimmunity: are we close to reality?


A. Lehuen, INSERM U986, Hospital Saint-Vincent de Paul, 82, Avenue Denfert-Rochereau, 75014 Paris, France. E-mail:


T cells reactive to lipids and restricted by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I-like molecules represent more than 15% of all lymphocytes in human blood. This heterogeneous population of innate cells includes the invariant natural killer T cells (iNK T), type II NK T cells, CD1a,b,c-restricted T cells and mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells. These populations are implicated in cancer, infection and autoimmunity. In this review, we focus on the role of these cells in autoimmunity. We summarize data obtained in humans and preclinical models of autoimmune diseases such as primary biliary cirrhosis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and atherosclerosis. We also discuss the promise of NK T cell manipulations: restoration of function, specific activation, depletion and the relevance of these treatments to human autoimmune diseases.