Chronic lymphocytic leukemia develops within a complex network driven by genetic mutations and microenvironmental interactions. Among the latter a complex interplay with the immune system is established by the clone. Next to a proposed recruitment of support from T and myeloid cells, potential anti-CLL immune reactions need to be subverted. By using TCL1 mice as a CLL model, we show that TCR-Vβ7+ NK1.1+ T cells are overrepresented in this disease model and constitute a main subset of peripheral CD3+ cells with biased TCR usage, showing that these cells account for a major part for T cell skewing in TCL1 mice. Moreover, we show that overrepresentation is dependent on CD1d expression in TCL1 mice, implicating that these cells belong to a NKT-like cell fraction which are restricted to antigen presented by the MHC-like surface marker CD1d. Accordingly, we observed a high fraction of CD161+ cells within overrepresented T cells in CLL patients and we found downregulation of CD1d on the surface of CLL cells, both in TCL1 mice and patients. Finally, we show that in TCL1 mice, CD1d deficiency resulted in shortened overall survival. Our results point to an interaction between CLL and CD161+ T cells that may represent a novel therapeutic target for immune modulation.
Keywords: CD161; CD1d; CLL; T cell skewing; T cells.