T Cell Responses to Mycobacterial Glycolipids: On the Spectrum of "Innateness"

Front Immunol. 2020 Feb 11;11:170. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2020.00170. eCollection 2020.


Diseases due to mycobacteria, including tuberculosis, leprosy, and Buruli ulcer, rank among the top causes of death and disability worldwide. Animal studies have revealed the importance of T cells in controlling these infections. However, the specific antigens recognized by T cells that confer protective immunity and their associated functions remain to be definitively established. T cells that respond to mycobacterial peptide antigens exhibit classical features of adaptive immunity and have been well-studied in humans and animal models. Recently, innate-like T cells that recognize lipid and metabolite antigens have also been implicated. Specifically, T cells that recognize mycobacterial glycolipid antigens (mycolipids) have been shown to confer protection to tuberculosis in animal models and share some biological characteristics with adaptive and innate-like T cells. Here, we review the existing data suggesting that mycolipid-specific T cells exist on a spectrum of "innateness," which will influence how they can be leveraged to develop new diagnostics and vaccines for mycobacterial diseases.

Keywords: CD1; T cell; diagnostics; glycolipids; lipid antigen; mycobacteria; tuberculosis; vaccines.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Bacterial / immunology*
  • Glycolipids / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Immunologic Memory
  • Leprosy / immunology
  • Leprosy / microbiology
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis / immunology*
  • Phenotype
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Tuberculosis / immunology*
  • Tuberculosis / microbiology


  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Glycolipids
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell