• collagen-induced arthritis;
  • cytokines;
  • inflammation;
  • natural killer T cells;
  • rheumatoid arthritis


Invariant NKT (iNKT) cells are a distinctive subtype of CD1d-restricted T cells involved in regulating autoimmunity and capable of producing various T helper type 1 (Th1), Th2 and Th17 cytokines. Activation of iNKT cells by their exogenous ligand α-galactosylceramide (α-GalCer) exerts therapeutic effects in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, the pathophysiological role of iNKT cells in RA, in the absence of exogenous stimulation, is incompletely understood. We investigated the potential pathophysiological effects of iNKT cells in mice with collagen-induced arthritis (CIA), a model of RA. We found that iNKT cells underwent activation only in the early phases of the disease (6 days post-induction). In the liver, but not the spleen or lymph nodes, this early activation led to the release of interleukins -4, -17A and -10 and of interferon-γ; and an increased CD69 expression. Importantly, clinical and histological signs of arthritis were improved by the functional blockade of iNKT cells by a monoclonal antibody to CD1d at the early phase of the disease. This improvement was associated on day 6 post-induction with decreased expression of co-stimulatory molecules (CD80, CD86, CD40) on splenic dendritic cells and macrophages, whereas regulatory T-cell suppressive effects and proportions were not modified. Taken in concert, these findings suggest that iNKT cells are activated early in the course of CIA and contribute to the pathogenesis of arthritis. Therefore, iNKT-cell activation may be a valid treatment target in RA.