Molecular basis of lipid antigen presentation by CD1d and recognition by natural killer T cells


Correspondence to:

Dirk M. Zajonc

Division of Cell Biology

La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology

9420 Athena Circle

La Jolla, CA 92037, USA

Tel.: +1 858 752 6605

Fax: +1 858 752 6985



Together with peptides, T lymphocytes respond to hydrophobic molecules, mostly lipids, presented by the non-classical CD1 family (CD1a–e). These molecules have evolved complex and diverse binding grooves in order to survey different cellular compartments for self and exogenous antigens, which are then presented for recognition to T-cell receptors (TCRs) on the surface of T cells. In particular, most CD1d-presented antigens are recognized by a population of lymphocytes denominated natural killer T (NKT) cells, characterized by a strong immunomodulatory potential. Among NKT cells, two major subsets (type I and type II NKT cells) have been described, based on their TCR repertoire and antigen specificity. Here we review recent structural and biochemical studies that have shed light on the molecular details of CD1d-mediated antigen recognition by type I and II NKT cells, which are in many aspects distinct from what has been observed for peptide major histocompatibility complex-reactive TCRs.