The Multifunctionality of Human Vγ9Vδ2 γδ T Cells: Clonal Plasticity or Distinct Subsets?


D. Kabelitz, Institute of Immunology, University of Kiel, Arnold-Heller-Str. 3, Haus 17, D-24105 Kiel, Germany. E-mail:


The dominant subset of γδ T cells in human peripheral blood expresses Vγ9 paired with Vδ2 as variable TCR elements. Vγ9Vδ2 T cells recognize pyrophosphates derived from the microbial non-mevalonate isoprenoid biosynthesis pathway at pico- to nanomolar concentrations. Structurally related pyrophosphates are generated in eukaryotic cells through the mevalonate pathway involved in protein prenylation and cholesterol synthesis. However, micromolar concentrations of endogenous pyrophosphates are required to be recognized by Vγ9Vδ2 T cells. Such concentrations are not produced by normal cells but can accumulate upon cellular stress and transformation. Therefore, many tumour cells are susceptible to γδ T cell–mediated lysis owing to the overproduction of endogenous pyrophosphates. This explains why Vγ9Vδ2 T cells contribute to both anti-infective and anti-tumour immunity. Ex vivo analysed Vγ9Vδ2 T cells can be subdivided on the basis of additional surface markers, including chemokine receptors and markers for naïve and memory T cells. At the functional level, Vγ9Vδ2 T cells produce a broad range of cytokines, display potent cytotoxic activity, regulate αβ T cell responses, and – quite surprisingly – can act as professional antigen-presenting cells. Thus, an exceptional range of effector functions has been assigned to a population of T cells, which all recognize invariant exogenous or endogenous pyrophosphates that are not seen by any other immune cell. Here, we discuss whether this plethora of effector functions reflects the plasticity of individual Vγ9Vδ2 T cells or can be assigned to distinct subsets.