Carbohydrate specificity of the recognition of diverse glycolipids by natural killer T cells


Mitchell Kronenberg
Division of Developmental Immunology
La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology
9420 Athena Circle
La Jolla, CA 92037, USA
Tel.: +1 858 752 6540
Fax: +1 858 752 6985


Summary:  Most T lymphocytes recognize peptide antigens bound to or presented by molecules encoded in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). The CD1 family of antigen-presenting molecules is related to the MHC-encoded molecules, but CD1 proteins present lipid antigens, mostly glycolipids. Here we review T-lymphocyte recognition of glycolipids, with particular emphasis on the subpopulation known as natural killer T (NKT) cells. NKT cells influence many immune responses, they have a T-cell antigen receptor (TCR) that is restricted in diversity, and they share properties with cells of the innate immune system. NKT cells recognize antigens presented by CD1d with hexose sugars in α-linkage to lipids, although other, related antigens are known. The hydrophobic alkyl chains are buried in the CD1d groove, with the carbohydrate exposed for TCR recognition, together with the surface of the CD1d molecule. Therefore, understanding the biochemical basis for antigen recognition by NKT cells requires an understanding of how the trimolecular complex of CD1d, glycolipid, and the TCR is formed, which is in part a problem of carbohydrate recognition by the TCR. Recent investigations from our laboratories as well as studies from other groups have provided important information on the structural basis for NKT-cell specificity.