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Interplay between carbohydrate and lipid in recognition of glycolipid antigens by natural killer T cells


Mitchell Kronenberg, La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, 9420 Athena Circle, La Jolla, CA 92037.


Natural killer T (NKT) cells are a T cell subpopulation that were named originally based on coexpression of receptors found on natural killer (NK) cells, cells of the innate immune system, and by T lymphocytes. The maturation and activation of NKT cells requires presentation of glycolipid antigens by CD1d, a cell surface protein distantly related to the major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-encoded antigen presenting molecules. This specificity distinguishes NKT cells from most CD4+ and CD8+ T cells that recognize peptides presented by MHC class I and class II molecules. The rapid secretion of a large amount of both Th1 and Th2 cytokines by activated NKT cells endows them with the ability to play a vital role in the host immune defense against various microbial infections. In this review, we summarize progress on identifying the sources of microbe-derived glycolipid antigens recognized by NKT cells and the biochemical basis for their recognition.