Functional invariant natural killer T-cell and CD1d axis in chronic lymphocytic leukemia: implications for immunotherapy

Haematologica. 2013 Mar;98(3):376-84. doi: 10.3324/haematol.2012.072835. Epub 2012 Oct 12.


Invariant natural killer T cells recognize glycolipid antigens such as α-galactosylceramide presented by CD1d. In preclinical models of B-cell malignancies, α-galactosylceramide is an adjuvant to tumor vaccination, enhancing tumor-specific T-cell responses and prolonging survival. However, numerical and functional invariant natural killer T-cell defects exist in patients with some cancers. Our aim was to assess this axis in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The numbers of circulating invariant natural killer T cells and the expression of CD1d on antigen-presenting cells were evaluated in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and age-matched controls. Cytokine profile and in vitro proliferative capacity were determined. Patient- and control-derived invariant natural killer T-cell lines were generated and characterized, and allogeneic and autologous responses to α-galactosylce-ramide-treated leukemia cells were assessed. Absolute numbers and phenotype of invariant natural killer T cells were normal in patients with untreated chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and cytokine profile and proliferative capacity were intact. Chemotherapy-treated patients had reduced numbers of invariant natural killer T cells and myeloid dendritic cells, but α-galactosylceramide-induced proliferation was preserved. Invariant natural killer T-cell lines from patients lysed CD1d-expressing targets. Irradiated α-galactosylceramide-treated leukemic cells elicited allogeneic and autologous invariant natural killer T-cell proliferation, and α-galactosylceramide treatment led to increased proliferation of conventional T cells in response to tumor. In conclusion, the invariant natural killer T-cell and CD1d axis is fundamentally intact in patients with early-stage chronic lymphocytic leukemia and, despite reduced circulating numbers, function is retained in fludarabine-treated patients. Immunotherapies exploiting the adjuvant effect of α-galactosylceramide may be feasible.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, CD1d / metabolism*
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology
  • Dendritic Cells / metabolism
  • Galactosylceramides / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Immunotherapy
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / immunology*
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / metabolism*
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / therapy
  • Myeloid Cells / immunology
  • Myeloid Cells / metabolism
  • Natural Killer T-Cells / drug effects
  • Natural Killer T-Cells / immunology*
  • Natural Killer T-Cells / metabolism*
  • Phenotype


  • Antigens, CD1d
  • Cytokines
  • Galactosylceramides
  • alpha-galactosylceramide