Circulating natural killer T cells in patients with asthma

J Asthma. 2004;41(8):877-82. doi: 10.1081/jas-200038364.


Recent studies suggest that therapies targeted at depletion or limiting of natural killer (NK) T cells may be a possible strategy for the treatment of asthma. In the present study, we measured the number of circulating V alpha24+ NKT cells in 32 asthmatic patients and compared these patients with 29 nonatopic healthy controls. We investigated the relationships between NKT cell number and clinical variables such as the number of eosinophils, the circulating level of IgE, and the severity of asthma. In addition, we also investigated the ability of NKT cells to proliferate in response to alpha-galactosyl ceramide (alpha-GalCer) in vitro. The V alpha24+ NKT cell counts of asthmatic patients were significantly lower than those of healthy controls. There were no significant differences observed in asthmatic patients among the subgroups in terms of atopic status and severity. There was no significant correlation between the number of NKT cells and clinical variables. The proliferative response to alpha-GalCer of the patients and controls was not significantly different, indicating no intrinsic proliferative defect of NKT cells in asthma. These results suggest that the number of circulating NKT cells was already decreased in patients with asthma. Further study, such as the evaluation of lung NKT cells, will be needed to determine the role of NKT cells in patients with asthma.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Asthma / immunology*
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Eosinophils / pathology
  • Female
  • Galactosylceramides / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin E / blood
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Killer Cells, Natural / drug effects
  • Killer Cells, Natural / pathology*
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Galactosylceramides
  • alpha-galactosylceramide
  • Immunoglobulin E