CD1d-independent activation of mouse and human iNKT cells by bacterial superantigens

Immunol Cell Biol. 2012 Aug;90(7):699-709. doi: 10.1038/icb.2011.90. Epub 2011 Nov 1.


Invariant NKT (iNKT) cells are infrequent but important immunomodulatory lymphocytes that exhibit CD1d-restricted reactivity with glycolipid Ags. iNKT cells express a unique T-cell receptor (TCR) composed of an invariant α-chain, paired with a limited range of β-chains. Superantigens (SAgs) are microbial toxins defined by their ability to activate conventional T cells in a TCR β-chain variable domain (Vβ)-specific manner. However, whether iNKT cells are directly activated by bacterial SAgs remains an open question. Herein, we explored the responsiveness of mouse and human iNKT cells to a panel of staphylococcal and streptococcal SAgs and examined the contribution of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II and CD1d to these responses. Bacterial SAgs that target mouse Vβ8, such as staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB), were able to activate mouse hybridoma and primary hepatic iNKT cells in the presence of mouse APCs expressing human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-DR4. iNKT cell-mediated cytokine secretion in SEB-challenged HLA-DR4-transgenic mice was CD1d-independent and accompanied by a high interferon-γ:interleukin-4 ratio consistent with an in vivo Th1 bias. Furthermore, iNKT cells from SEB-injected HLA-DR4-transgenic mice, and iNKT cells from SEB-treated human PBMCs, showed early activation by intracellular cytokine staining and CD69 expression. Unlike iNKT cell stimulation by α-galactosylceramide, stimulation by SEB did not induce TCR downregulation of either mouse or human iNKT cells. We conclude that Vβ8-targeting bacterial SAgs can activate iNKT cells by utilizing a novel pathway that requires MHC class II interactions, but not CD1d. Therefore, iNKT cells fulfill important effector functions in response to bacterial SAgs and may provide attractive targets in the management of SAg-induced illnesses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD1d / immunology*
  • Antigens, CD1d / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Enterotoxins / genetics
  • Enterotoxins / immunology
  • Enterotoxins / metabolism
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Galactosylceramides / immunology
  • HLA-DR4 Antigen / genetics
  • HLA-DR4 Antigen / immunology
  • HLA-DR4 Antigen / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hybridomas / immunology
  • Hybridomas / metabolism
  • Interferon-gamma / blood
  • Interferon-gamma / immunology
  • Interferon-gamma / metabolism
  • Interleukin-4 / blood
  • Interleukin-4 / immunology
  • Interleukin-4 / metabolism
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Natural Killer T-Cells / immunology*
  • Natural Killer T-Cells / metabolism
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta / immunology
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta / metabolism
  • Staphylococcus aureus / genetics
  • Staphylococcus aureus / immunology
  • Staphylococcus aureus / metabolism
  • Superantigens / genetics
  • Superantigens / immunology*
  • Superantigens / metabolism


  • Antigens, CD1d
  • Enterotoxins
  • Galactosylceramides
  • HLA-DR4 Antigen
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta
  • Superantigens
  • alpha-galactosylceramide
  • Interleukin-4
  • enterotoxin B, staphylococcal
  • Interferon-gamma