MHC class I-related molecule, MR1, and mucosal-associated invariant T cells

Immunol Rev. 2016 Jul;272(1):120-38. doi: 10.1111/imr.12423.


The MHC-related 1, MR1, molecule presents a new class of microbial antigens (derivatives of the riboflavin [Vitamin B2] biosynthesis pathway) to mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells. This raises many questions regarding antigens loading and intracellular trafficking of the MR1/ligand complexes. The MR1/MAIT field is also important because MAIT cells are very abundant in humans and their frequency is modified in many infectious and non-infectious diseases. Both MR1 and the invariant TCRα chain expressed by MAIT cells are strikingly conserved among species, indicating important functions. Riboflavin is synthesized by plants and most bacteria and yeasts but not animals, and its precursor derivatives activating MAIT cells are short-lived unless bound to MR1. The recognition of MR1 loaded with these compounds is therefore an exquisite manner to detect invasive bacteria. Herein, we provide an historical perspective of the field before describing the main characteristics of MR1, its ligands, and the few available data regarding its cellular biology. We then summarize the current knowledge of MAIT cell differentiation and discuss the definition of MAIT cells in comparison to related subsets. Finally, we describe the phenotype and effector activities of MAIT cells.

Keywords: MAIT cells; MR1; bacterial infection; riboflavin.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Histocompatibility Antigens / metabolism
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Mucosal*
  • Minor Histocompatibility Antigens / metabolism*
  • Mucosal-Associated Invariant T Cells / immunology*
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta / metabolism
  • Riboflavin / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology*


  • Histocompatibility Antigens
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • MR1 protein, human
  • Minor Histocompatibility Antigens
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta
  • Riboflavin