TCR density in early iNKT cell precursors regulates agonist selection and subset differentiation in mice

Eur J Immunol. 2019 Jun;49(6):894-910. doi: 10.1002/eji.201848010. Epub 2019 Apr 2.


It is established that iNKT cells are a cell type that require strong TCR signal for their proper development and represent a model for thymic agonist selection. The nature of the signal perceived by iNKT cells promoting their specification is not well understood. To address this question, we analyzed iNKT cell development in relevant TCR Vα14-Jα18 alpha chain transgenic mice (Vα14Tg). In CD4-Vα14Tg mice, where the transgene is driven by CD4 promoter, we identified a block in iNKT cell development at early developmental stages due to a reduced expression of key transcription factors accompanied with a reduced TCR expression levels. This indicates that TCR signal strength control iNKT cell differentiation. Importantly, we found in WT mice that early precursors of iNKT cells express higher TCR levels compared to positively selected precursors of mainstream T cells showing that TCR levels could contribute to the strength of iNKT cell TCR signaling. Overall, our study highlights TCR signal strength associated with a higher TCR density as an important regulator of iNKT cell lineage specification.

Keywords: Agonist; TCR; Thymus; Valpha14; iNKT.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / immunology
  • Cell Lineage / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Natural Killer T-Cells / cytology*
  • Natural Killer T-Cells / immunology
  • Natural Killer T-Cells / metabolism
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta / immunology
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta / metabolism*
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / cytology*
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / metabolism


  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta