Immunometabolism of T cells and NK cells: metabolic control of effector and regulatory function

Inflamm Res. 2018 Oct;67(10):813-828. doi: 10.1007/s00011-018-1174-3. Epub 2018 Jul 31.


Metabolic flux can dictate cell fate, including immune cell effector and regulatory function. The metabolic regulation of cell function is well characterized with respect to effector, memory, and regulatory T cells. This knowledge may allow for manipulation of T cell metabolic pathways that set the stage for more effective T cell therapy. Natural Killer (NK) and T-lymphocytes have complementary roles in the defense against pathogens. However, studies of NK cell metabolism are only beginning to emerge and there is comparatively little knowledge on the metabolic regulation of NK-cell activation and effector function. Given their common lymphoid lineage, effector functions and cellular memory potential our current knowledge on T cell metabolism could inform investigation of metabolic reprogramming in NK cells. In this review, we compare the current knowledge of metabolic regulation in T cell and NK cell development, activation, effector and memory function. Commonalties in glucose transport, hypoxia-inducible factors and mTOR highlight metabolic control points in both cells types. Contrasting the glycolytic and oxidative nodes of metabolic regulation in T cells versus NK cells may provide insight into the contribution of specific immune responses to disease and promote the development of immunotherapeutic approaches targeting both innate and adaptive immune responses.

Keywords: Aerobic; Cell metabolism; Fat; Glucose; Glycolysis; Lymphocyte; Oxidative.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Memory
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / metabolism*
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism*