Transcriptome landscape of double negative T cells by single-cell RNA sequencing

J Autoimmun. 2021 Jul:121:102653. doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2021.102653. Epub 2021 May 19.


CD4 and CD8 coreceptor double negative TCRαβ+ T (DNT) cells are increasingly being recognized for their critical and diverse roles in the immune system. However, their molecular and functional signatures remain poorly understood and controversial. Moreover, the majority of studies are descriptive because of the relative low frequency of cells and non-standardized definition of this lineage. In this study, we performed single-cell RNA sequencing on 28,835 single immune cells isolated from mixed splenocytes of male C57BL/6 mice using strict fluorescence-activated cell sorting. The data was replicated in a subsequent study. Our analysis revealed five transcriptionally distinct naïve DNT cell clusters, which expressed unique sets of genes and primarily performed T helper, cytotoxic and innate immune functions. Anti-CD3/CD28 activation enhanced their T helper and cytotoxic functions. Moreover, in comparison with CD4+, CD8+ T cells and NK cells, Ikzf2 was highly expressed by both naïve and activated cytotoxic DNT cells. In conclusion, we provide a map of the heterogeneity in naïve and active DNT cells, addresses the controversy about DNT cells, and provides potential transcription signatures of DNT cells. The landscape approach herein will eventually become more feasible through newer high throughput methods and will enable clustering data to be fed into a systems analysis approach. Thus the approach should become the "backdrop" of similar studies in the myriad murine models of autoimmunity, potentially highlighting the importance of DNT cells and other minor lineage of cells in immune homeostasis. The clear characterization of functional DNT subsets into helper DNT, cytotoxic DNT and innate DNT will help to better understand the intrinsic roles of different functional DNT subsets in the development and progression of autoimmune diseases and transplant rejection, and thereby may facilitate diagnosis and therapy.

Keywords: Double negative T cell; Inflammation; Innate immunity; Regulatory T cells; Single-cell RNA sequencing; Unconventional T cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Separation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Ikaros Transcription Factor / metabolism*
  • Lymphocyte Activation / genetics
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Primary Cell Culture
  • RNA-Seq
  • Single-Cell Analysis
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / metabolism
  • Transcriptome / immunology*


  • Ikzf2 protein, mouse
  • Ikaros Transcription Factor