Toward an understanding of NKT cell biology: progress and paradoxes

Annu Rev Immunol. 2005;23:877-900. doi: 10.1146/annurev.immunol.23.021704.115742.


Natural killer T (NKT) cells constitute a conserved T cell sublineage with unique properties, including reactivity for a synthetic glycolipid presented by CD1d, expression of an invariant T cell antigen receptor (TCR) alpha chain, and unusual requirements for thymic selection. They rapidly produce many cytokines after stimulation and thus influence diverse immune responses and pathogenic processes. Because of intensive research effort, we have learned much about factors promoting the development and survival of NKT cells, regulation of their cytokine production, and the means by which they influence dendritic cells and other cell types. Despite this progress, knowledge of the natural antigen(s) they recognize and their physiologic role remain incomplete. The activation of NKT cells paradoxically can lead either to suppression or stimulation of immune responses, and we cannot predict which will occur. Despite this uncertainty, many investigators are hopeful that immune therapies can be developed based on NKT cell stimulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigen Presentation
  • Cell Communication
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Movement
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Galactosylceramides / immunology
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / cytology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Models, Immunological
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / cytology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology*


  • Cytokines
  • Galactosylceramides
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta
  • alpha-galactosylceramide