Targeting Natural Killer T Cells in Solid Malignancies

Cells. 2021 May 27;10(6):1329. doi: 10.3390/cells10061329.


Natural killer T (NKT) cells are a unique subset of lymphocytes that recognize lipid antigens in the context of the non-classical class I MHC molecule, CD1d, and serve as a link between the innate and adaptive immune system through their expeditious release of cytokines. Whereas NKT have well-established roles in mitigating a number of human diseases, herein, we focus on their role in cancer. NKT cells have been shown to directly and indirectly mediate anti-tumor immunity and manipulating their effector functions can have therapeutic significances in treatment of cancer. In this review, we highlight several therapeutic strategies that have been used to harness the effector functions of NKT cells to target different types of solid tumors. We also discuss several barriers to the successful utilization of NKT cells and summarize effective strategies being developed to harness the unique strengths of this potent population of T cells. Collectively, studies investigating the therapeutic potential of NKT cells serve not only to advance our understanding of this powerful immune cell subset, but also pave the way for future treatments focused on the modulation of NKT cell responses to enhance cancer immunotherapy.

Keywords: CD1d; NKT cells; cancer immunotherapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, CD1d / metabolism
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy* / methods
  • Natural Killer T-Cells / cytology*
  • Natural Killer T-Cells / immunology
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / immunology
  • Neoplasms / immunology*


  • Antigens, CD1d
  • CD1D protein, human
  • Cytokines