Natural killer T (NKT) cells are a distinct subset of lymphocytes that bridge the innate and adaptive immune response and can be divided into type I invariant NKT cells (iNKT) and type II NKT cells. The objective of this study is to examine the effects of NKT cell on lipid metabolism and the initiation and progression of atherosclerosis in LDL receptor deficient (LDLR-/-) mice. Mice were fed an atherogenic diet for 4 or 8 weeks and plasma lipids, lipoproteins, and atherosclerosis were measured. The selective absence of iNKT cells in Jα18-/-LDLR-/- mice led to an increase in plasma cholesterol levels in female mice. Transgenic Vα14tg/LDLR-/- mice with elevated numbers of iNKT cells had increased late atherosclerosis of the innominate artery, though absence of either iNKT cells or all NKT cells and other CD1d expressing cells had varying effects on atherosclerotic lesion burden in the ascending aortic arch and aortic root. These studies not only highlight the potential modulatory role played by NKT cells in atherosclerosis and lipid metabolism, but also raise the possibility that divergent roles may be played by iNKT and CD1d restricted cells such as type II NKT cells or other CD1d expressing cells.
Keywords: NKT cells; atherosclerosis; cholesterol; lipoproteins.