Human NKT cells direct the differentiation of myeloid APCs that regulate T cell responses via expression of programmed cell death ligands

J Autoimmun. 2011 Aug;37(1):28-38. doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2011.03.001. Epub 2011 Apr 12.


NKT cells are innate lymphocytes that can recognize self or foreign lipids presented by CD1d molecules. NKT cells have been shown to inhibit the development of autoimmunity in murine model systems, however, the pathways by which they foster immune tolerance remain poorly understood. Here we show that autoreactive human NKT cells stimulate monocytes to differentiate into myeloid APCs that have a regulatory phenotype characterized by poor conjugate formation with T cells. The NKT cell instructed myeloid APCs show elevated expression of the inhibitory ligand PD-L2, and blocking PD-L1 and PD-L2 during interactions of the APCs with T cells results in improved cluster formation and significantly increased T cell proliferative responses. The elevated expression of PD-L molecules on NKT-instructed APCs appears to result from exposure to extracellular ATP that is produced during NKT-monocyte interactions, and blocking purinergic signaling during monocyte differentiation results in APCs that form clusters with T cells and stimulate their proliferation. Finally, we show that human monocytes and NKT cells that are injected into immunodeficient mice co-localize together in spleen and liver, and after 3 days in vivo in the presence of NKT cells a fraction of the myeloid cells have upregulated markers associated with differentiation into professional APCs. These results suggest that autoreactive human NKT cells may promote tolerance by inducing the differentiation of regulatory myeloid APCs that limit T cell proliferation through expression of PD-L molecules.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / cytology*
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / drug effects
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / immunology
  • Antigens, CD / immunology*
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism
  • B7-1 Antigen / metabolism
  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • Cell Differentiation* / immunology
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Humans
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred NOD
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, SCID
  • Myeloid Cells / cytology*
  • Myeloid Cells / drug effects
  • Myeloid Cells / immunology
  • Natural Killer T-Cells / immunology*
  • Phenotype
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Ligand 2 Protein
  • T-Lymphocytes* / immunology


  • Antigens, CD
  • B7-1 Antigen
  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • CD274 protein, human
  • PDCD1LG2 protein, human
  • Pdcd1lg2 protein, mouse
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Ligand 2 Protein
  • Adenosine Triphosphate