T cells and NKT cells in the pathogenesis of asthma

Annu Rev Med. 2008:59:281-92. doi: 10.1146/annurev.med.59.061506.154139.


Asthma is an immunological disease with multiple inflammatory and clinical phenotypes, characterized by symptoms of wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing due to airway hyperreactivity (AHR) and reversible airway obstruction. In allergic asthma, the most common form of asthma, airway inflammation is mediated by adaptive immune recognition of protein allergens by Th2 cells, resulting in airway eosinophilia. However, in other forms of asthma, inflammation is associated with immune responses to respiratory infections and airway neutrophilia. A central feature common to all forms of asthma is AHR, the heightened responsiveness of the airways to nonspecific stimuli. AHR has been shown recently in animal models of asthma to require the presence of CD1d-restricted, invariant T cell receptor-positive, natural killer T (iNKT) cells. Although allergen-specific Th2 cells and iNKT cells have many phenotypic similarities (e.g., expression of CD4 and production of Th2 cytokines), they have complementary activities, such as production of Th2 cytokines under different conditions, differential sensitivity to corticosteroids, and responsiveness to different classes of antigen (proteins versus glycolipids). We hypothesize that Th2 cells and iNKT cells interact synergistically to induce asthma but that different forms of asthma result from distinct roles of CD4(+) iNKT cells versus Th2 cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / etiology*
  • Asthma / pathology
  • Cell Communication / physiology
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / physiology*
  • Th2 Cells / physiology*