A key role for Itk in both IFN gamma and IL-4 production by NKT cells

J Immunol. 2007 Jul 1;179(1):111-9. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.179.1.111.


NKT cells rapidly secrete cytokines upon TCR stimulation and thus may modulate the acquired immune response. Recent studies suggest that signaling for development and effector function in NKT cells may differ from conventional T cells. The tyrosine kinase Itk is activated downstream of the TCR, and its absence in CD4(+) T cells results in impaired Th2, but not Th1 responses. In this study, we investigated NKT cell function in the absence of Itk as impaired type 2 responses in vivo could be manifest through IL-4 defects in a number of cell types. We show that Itk-deficient NKT cells up-regulate IL-4 mRNA in the thymus and express constitutive IL-4 and IFN-gamma transcripts in peripheral organs. Thus, Itk is not required for the developmental activation of cytokine loci in NKT cells. Nevertheless, Itk-deficient NKT cells are severely impaired in IL-4 protein production. Strikingly, unlike conventional CD4(+) T cells, Itk-deficient NKT cells also have profound defects in IFN-gamma production. Furthermore, both IL-4 and IFN-gamma production were markedly impaired following in vivo challenge with alpha-galactosyl ceramide. Function can be restored in Itk-deficient NKT cells by provision of calcium signals using ionomycin. These results suggest that NKT cells are highly dependent on Itk for IL-4- and IFN-gamma-mediated effector function. Thus, the pattern of cytokine genes that are affected by Itk deficiency appears to be cell lineage-specific, likely reflecting differences in activation threshold between immune effectors. The severe defect in NKT cell function may underlie a number of the Th1 and Th2 immune defects in Itk-deficient mice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Cell Differentiation / immunology
  • Interferon-gamma / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Interferon-gamma / biosynthesis*
  • Interferon-gamma / metabolism
  • Interleukin-4 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Interleukin-4 / biosynthesis*
  • Interleukin-4 / metabolism
  • Killer Cells, Natural / cytology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / enzymology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / deficiency
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / physiology*
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / cytology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / enzymology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes / enzymology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*


  • Interleukin-4
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • emt protein-tyrosine kinase